Har­ris town hall turns rau­cous

Record Observer - - Front Page - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com

WYE MILLS — Some de­scribed it as democ­racy at work, testy as most of the crowd was Fri­day night, March 31, at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege’s Todd Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter for U.S. Rep. Andy Har­ris’ town hall meet­ing.

Crowds and lines be­gan to build for the event well be­fore doors opened to the pub­lic at 5 p.m.

Har­ris, R-Md.-1st, an­nounced the town hall date in Fe­bru­ary as a way to talk about Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans’ re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act. A Repub­li­can health care al­ter­na­tive was of­fered but was pulled re­cently when, just be­fore the vote was sched­uled, there was deemed not enough sup­port for the leg­is­la­tion for it to pass.

Har­ris, an anes­the­si­ol­o­gist, has been in fa­vor of re­peal­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act, and it is some­thing he has cam­paigned on in past elec­tions. He said Fri­day night the Repub­li­can al­ter­na­tive didn’t do enough to re­duce pre­mi­ums im­me­di­ately.

Har­ris started his town hall the way he usu­ally does, with a slide pre­sen­ta­tion show­ing charts of the fed­eral deficit.

Then the boo­ing and shout­ing from the crowd started.

Har­ris con­tin­ued through his slides be­tween in­ter­rup­tions from the crowd, full mostly of lo­cal pro­gres­sive and Demo­crat groups, shout­ing at him to get to the ques­tion-and-an­swer part of the town hall.

Ques­tions from the crowd were drawn from a box full of note cards col­lected be­fore the event’s start at 6 p.m. Har­ris got through nearly 30 ques­tions be­fore the event came to an end 15 min­utes past the set end time of 7 p.m.

The ques­tions re­volved around a few gen­eral themes.

More than a half dozen ques­tions were re­lated to health care, and an­other half dozen re­lated to var­i­ous poli­cies of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. Some also touched on the en­vi­ron­ment, par­ti­san­ship in Congress, im­mi­gra­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and re­cent acts of Congress.

Beyond the ex­pla­na­tions of­fered by Har­ris, the over­all an­swers to three big top­ics — ed­u­ca­tion, health care and the en­vi­ron­ment, which have been points of divi­sion be­tween Repub­li­cans and Democrats — were more or less the same: Send the re­spon­si­bil­ity back to the states.

On House Res­o­lu­tion 610, a bill co-spon­sored by Har­ris, he said it takes fed­eral money that sup­ports in­creased nu­tri­tional stan­dards in schools and sends it back to the states so lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions can de­cide for them­selves what is best for their stu­dent pop­u­la­tion.

“It says the fed­eral govern­ment has got to get out of the ed­u­ca­tion busi­ness, be­cause it doesn’t help,” Har­ris said, a state­ment met with jeers from a large por­tion of the crowd. “The best ed­u­ca­tion de­ci­sions are not made in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in the fed­eral tri­an­gle; they’re made within the lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions.”

Har­ris said kids sim­ply do not eat the health­ier food of­fered to them at lunch and much of it is thrown away. Much of the crowd met the state­ment with boos.

“I work in a low-in­come school, and some kids, that’s the only meals that they get, are their break­fasts and their lunch (at school),” said Deb­bie Krueger, a Kent Is­land res­i­dent with To­gether We Will-Del­marva. “He doesn’t let women make choices about their health care, but he’s go­ing to let kids make choices about their lunches.”

On health care, ques­tions ranged from why he sup­ported the Repub­li­can Party pro­posal to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood to the re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Peo­ple from the crowd shouted “sin­gle-payer” ev­ery time a ques­tion about the Af­ford­able Care Act re­peal and the Repub­li­can al­ter­na­tive was brought up. A sin­gle­payer sys­tem is one in which a quasi-pub­lic en­tity fi­nances health care for all.

Har­ris said there could be amend­ments to a Repub­li­can Party al­ter­na­tive to health care re­form that will lower in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums sig­nif­i­cantly, rather than the for­mer pro­posal, which he said would not have re­duced pre­mi­ums for a few years.

“That wasn’t fast enough for us. We think there are ways, es­pe­cially with a prop­erly con­structed high-risk pool, that those pre­mi­ums do come down, they come down im­me­di­ately, and they do what we want it to do, which is to make sure that peo­ple with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions don’t worry at all about ... whether they’re go­ing to have cov­er­age or not,” he said.

“I think a lot of the Democrats are go­ing to like the high-risk pool mech­a­nism. We had it in Mary­land here, a highly Demo­cratic state. It worked very well to get pre­mi­ums down for peo­ple with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, and I think it’s go­ing to work well on a fed­eral level,” he said.

On the en­vi­ron­ment, the crowd cheered for Har­ris when he said he sup­ported fully fund­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram at $73 mil­lion and spend­ing it in a way that helps farm­ers re­duce pol­lu­tion, rather than en­vi­ron­men­tal over­reg­u­la­tion.

But one ques­tion dealt with Har­ris’ sup­port of the Stop­ping EPA Over­reach Act of 2017, an­other bill he co-spon­sored, which rolls back fed­eral laws that deem car­bon diox­ide, meth­ane, ni­trous ox­ide and flouri­nated gases as air pol­lu­tants im­pact­ing cli­mate change.

Har­ris said he be­lieves in cli­mate change but also said the fed­eral govern­ment has to strike a bal­ance be­tween en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion and not hurt­ing the econ­omy, point­ing to slow eco­nomic growth for the past 10 years. But he again was met with boos from much of the crowd.

“I guess we have no coal min­ers in this au­di­ence,” Har­ris said, echo­ing an ar­gu­ment by Trump that the coal in­dus­try has been crip­pled by en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions.

The crowd was not just full of pro­gres­sive and Demo­crat groups, in­clud­ing sev­eral newly formed groups like Tal­bot Ris­ing and dif­fer­ent In­di­vis­i­ble groups from around the Shore. Har­ris sup­port­ers at­tended, as well, though they made up a smaller por­tion of the crowd.

“His com­ments and state­ments were right along with the po­lit­i­cal party. They were true, they were log­i­cal ... and re­spect­ful,” said Queen Anne’s County Repub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tim Kingston.

Har­ris sup­porter Frank Mirabile called the boo­ing crowd rude and dis­re­spect­ful.

“They wouldn’t al­low him to talk, and ev­ery time he tried to give some sort of log­i­cal an­swer with data be­hind it, they went off in their lit­tle ‘In­di­vis­i­ble’ rants when it was all emo­tional-bound, in­stead of lis­ten­ing to the fact,” Mirabile said.

Har­ris said af­ter the town hall that his po­si­tions on the is­sues are noth­ing new, point­ing to his opin­ions on re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act and his vot­ing record to re­duce EPA fund­ing af­ter the agency “over­stepped their bounds” on reg­u­lat­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

“The peo­ple in the First Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, es­pe­cially on the East­ern Shore, know that I pro­tect the East­ern Shore of Mary­land, I pro­tect the in­dus­tries vi­tal to the East­ern Shore of Mary­land, and some­times those run pop­u­lar with peo­ple in the dis­trict,” Har­ris said. “This was not a col­lec­tion of farm­ers, but if you asked a ques­tion about the EPA in a col­lec­tion of farm­ers, you get a very dif­fer­ent re­sponse.”

Tal­bot Ris­ing mem­ber Michael Pullen said Har­ris’ an­swers and the crowd’s re­ac­tion were ex­pected, “be­cause peo­ple are up­set with the poli­cies that Con­gress­man Har­ris has spon­sored and con­tin­ues to spon­sor.”

“There is a move­ment afoot. I think it’s a grass­roots move­ment of peo­ple that are be­com­ing en­gaged and be­com­ing ac­tive and are ex­press­ing their con­cerns, and it’s a good thing,” Pullen said. “This is democ­racy, and the peo­ple are the source of the power, and I think we’re get­ting to the point where peo­ple rec­og­nize that power is there and they’re wak­ing up to it.”

Now that Repub­li­cans have con­trol of the leg­isla­tive and ex­ec­u­tive branches of the fed­eral govern­ment, Pullen said the ques­tion re­mains what pos­i­tive pro­grams Har­ris will get be­hind to make health care work for peo­ple.

Pullen, a sup­porter of uni­ver­sal health care, said ev­ery ma­jor coun­try in the world pro­vides uni­ver­sal health care as a right, ex­cept the United States.

“The Repub­li­can plan to re­peal it and re­place it with a pro­gram that would have cost Mary­land $2 bil­lion a year, ul­ti­mately throw­ing 24 mil­lion peo­ple off of health care and raise the pre­mi­ums to boot — that’s not a very pos­i­tive so­lu­tion,” he said. “The fact that they chose to put this to­gether in such a short or­der also in­di­cates to me that ... there wasn’t enough time to do it right.”

“Medicaid doesn’t work. We like the num­bers, we like to say so many peo­ple are in­sured, but in fact, if you have a Medicaid in­sur­ance card and you can’t get good care and you can’t get spe­cial­ist care, that’s not re­ally get­ting health care,” Har­ris said. “I saw this first­hand in al­most ev­ery en­vi­ron­ment that I’ve worked in.”

But over­all, a ma­jor­ity of the crowd was ag­gra­vated Fri­day night, said Joyce Scharch, with the Demo­cratic Women’s Club of Tal­bot County.

She said her group has tried to con­tact Har­ris mul­ti­ple times, show­ing up at one of his of­fices and mak­ing daily calls on cer­tain is­sues, like Planned Par­ent­hood de­fund­ing.

“I wish he would have the nerve to talk to us one on one. We email him, we call his of­fices — we get form let­ters back,” Scharch said. “We have no per­sonal re­sponse from the man at all, and he rep­re­sents us. We have worked long and hard to try to com­mu­ni­cate with him.”

Har­ris re­cently held of­fice hours at his Bel Air of­fice, and Scharch’s group was able to se­cure a meet­ing with a Shore rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Har­ris af­ter ini­tially show­ing up to his of­fice on Kent Is­land and be­ing met with a locked door.

But Scharch said there is still a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Har­ris and his con­stituents, and their ag­gra­va­tion fi­nally was given a chance for re­lease at the town hall.

The crit­i­cism over a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is one Har­ris takes and points to his record of hold­ing not just town halls in per­son but town halls over the tele­phone, a few of which he held re­cently that he said could reach 4,000 to 5,000 peo­ple per call. The top­ics at his tele­phone town halls and the one in per­son March 31 were “roughly iden­ti­cal,” Har­ris said, just with­out boo­ing and crowd in­ter­rup­tions.

“These are folks from the dis­trict, they’re in­ter­ested, they want to par­tic­i­pate in democ­racy, and that’s what we saw tonight. We saw that you can agree to dis­agree. It’s non­vi­o­lent. Peo­ple came out and ex­pressed their frus­tra­tions. That’s part of the Amer­i­can sys­tem,” Har­ris said.

“I cel­e­brate that. Is it com­fort­able do­ing that? Would I rather that I had a cheer­ing crowd? Yeah, but this is Amer­ica. This is what we get. This is not Rus­sia, this is Amer­ica,” he said.

“These are folks from the dis­trict, they’re in­ter­ested, they want to par­tic­i­pate in democ­racy and that’s what we saw tonight. We saw that you can agree to dis­agree. It’s non­vi­o­lent. Peo­ple came out and ex­pressed their frus­tra­tions. That’s part of the Amer­i­can sys­tem. I cel­e­brate that. Is it com­fort­able do­ing that? Would I rather that I had a cheer­ing crowd? Yeah, but this is Amer­ica. This is what we get. This is not Rus­sia, this is Amer­ica.”

Rep. Andy Har­ris, R-1st Dis­trict

PHO­TOS BY CHRIS POLK

Dorotheann Sadusky, of Kent Is­land, left, waves a sign as con­stituents stand in line for Rep. Andy Har­ris’ town hall meet­ing. Sadusky is pres­i­dent of the Demo­cratic Club of Queen Anne’s County.

U.S. Rep. Andy Har­ris, R-Md.-1st, speaks dur­ing his town hall meet­ing March 31 at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege.

PHO­TOS BY CHRIS POLK

The au­di­to­rium at the Todd Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege is full to ca­pac­ity for Con­gress­man Andy Har­ris’ town hall meet­ing on Fri­day.

Tomb­stone signs dec­o­rate the lawn out­side the Todd Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege be­fore the Andy Har­ris town meet­ing on Fri­day evening.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.