A town hall meeting held in Lakewood Tuesday by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, attracted an estimated 2,500 people, with both supporters and opponents of government run-health care turning out in large numbers.
Most of the people who spoke at the Clover Park High School stadium asked questions critical of Democratic health-care reform proposals, though groups supporting a public health care option demonstrated in larger numbers near the stadium entrance before the event.
It was hard to tell if Smith attracted more boos or cheers when he announced, “I think a public option is good.”
Smith was cheered loudly when he said he wouldn’t support Democrats’ health care reform plan in its current form, saying the bill incorporates too many issues not relevant to providing universal health care. He named provisions for end-of-life counseling as something he didn’t believe belonged in the health care reform bill.
“There are huge issues in there that are not necessary to establishing universal access,” said Smith, adding that he expects a very different version of the health care reform bill will reach the House floor.
Several speakers expressed concern that they’d lose their choice of doctor should the plan move forward, or suffer delays as government panels made decisions about their health care.
Others said they thought the plan would raise government spending to unacceptable levels.
“Anything the government gets into is extremely inefficient,” said 55-year-old Vance Walden of Fircrest, who held a sign that read, “No Public Option.”
“I’m worried about the runaway cost of government.”
Others said they thought the opposite – that a public option would make health insurance cheaper.
“I think it’s the only way we can keep the cost down and give the insurance companies some real competition,” said 70-year-old Ardie Herbel of DuPont. “It’s really not reform unless we have a public option.”
Though audience members’ shouts occasionally eclipsed Smith’s attempts to answer questions, for the most part the town hall proceeded without interruption.
The only incident occurred over a man carrying a sign that depicted President Obama with a Hitler mustache, which prompted outcry from several people standing nearby. Bystanders ultimately brought the man to the ground, crumpled his sign and discarded it.
During the scuffle, Smith’s attempt to answer a question about abortion fell by the wayside. Some people shouted words supporting sign bearer’s right to free speech.
The man with the sign left shortly afterward.
Before the event, some Democratic and left-leaning groups gathered outside the entrance to the stadium to express their support for a public health care option.
“Then the kind of health care you get is geared toward patients, not toward profit-making,” said Kshama Iyengar, who works with the Seattle chapter of the Socialist Alternative.
Tacoma resident Lloyd Eggers, 44, said he was surprised to see Democratic groups come to the town hall from outside the area. Eggers opposes government-run health care, he said.
“We’ve all been accused of being some form of organized effort,” said Eggers, referring to conservatives. “It seems like they’re doing what they’ve been accusing us of doing.”
Recent town halls held by Democratic lawmakers across the country have been marked by protests and shouting from conservative opponents of health care reform plans. Some events have even turned violent and resulted in citizen arrests.
Democrats have alleged the protests are being staged by conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, which oppose a public option for health care coverage.
Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, initially criticized town halls for creating more conflict than discussion, but has since changed his tune. He’s now appearing at events across Western Washington, including a town hall in Tumwater Aug. 31.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, also had no town halls scheduled during the August congressional recess, but has since added two to his schedule on Aug. 31.
A spokesman for the congressman, George Behan, told The Kitsap Sun that without a rush to pass a bill Dicks now believes he can hold substantive discussions.
Dicks told the Bremerton Rotary Club earlier this month he didn’t see the point of holding a forum if too many people wanted to disrupt it.
By contrast, Smith has been steady in his commitment to hold town halls, even if Tuesday’s event and one he held in late July brought some shouting and heckling.
Tuesday’s town hall originally was scheduled for the Lakewood City Hall, but Smith’s staffers twice moved it to accommodate a larger crowd. More than 1,000 had called to RSVP by Tuesday afternoon. Smith’s spokesman Mike Amato estimated that roughly 2,500 people ended up attending
“We just decided to move it to a location that could accommodate everyone who wanted to come,” Amato said.
Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058
Staff writer Brian Everstine and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
MORE TOWN HALLS
Other western Washington congressmen are planning town halls Monday.
• Norm Dicks, D-Belfair: 7:30 to 9 p.m., at the Kitsap Conference Center, 100 Washington Ave., Bremerton. Earlier in the day, Dicks will hold an event at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend.
• Brian Baird, D-Vancouver: 7 to 9:30 p.m. at South Puget Sound College’s Minnaert Center for the Arts, 2011 Mottman Road S.W. in Tumwater.