Congresswoman Speier’s Town Hall

(Also posted to Daily Kos)

More of a Town Field, actually.  

I planned to attend this a few days ago, and confirmed my attendance with MoveOn.  I planned on arriving between 8:15-8:30AM for a 9AM Town Hall in San Carlos.  This morning after showering, I saw I had received email from Move On, suggesting that people plan on arriving two hours early.  It was a little too late for me for that, but I hurried up and arrived 90 minutes early…  To find I was the first person to arrive.  So, I watched the set-up, etc, which was fairly boring.

I did learn that 80% of the San Carlos police department was at the park.  It was going to be very hot there, as we’re in the midst of a warm spell, and most of the audience area was in the sun.  It was already 80 degrees by 9AM.  I talked with a couple people attending, and was struck by the nature of CA-12, electing people directly effected by religious insanity:  Leo Ryan, killed in Jonestown, Tom Lantos, the only Congressman who also was in a Concentration Camp, and now Jackie Speier, who was an aid to Leo Ryan and was shot in Jonestown.

Congresswoman Speier arrived roughly on time, and the fun began.

It started with tributes to San Carlos, and some stuff about the Boy Scouts, and the pledge of allegiance.  I’ll admit that, as an atheist, and supporter of Gay Rights, I was uninterested, but this wasn’t why I was there.  I had a very specific question I wanted to ask.  (While waiting, I even spoke with Mike Larsen about the nature and format of questions, he was very agreeable.)  

The Congresswoman made a brief presentation, during which the disruptive elements started to make themselves apparent.  Jackie and her staff had the microphones, though, and while there were a few withering looks, and a few other comments from the crowd of “Let her talk” there wasn’t much other disruption.  This town hall went relatively well, so it isn’t one likely to make the national news.

Most of the time was spent with Q&A.  There were the normal issues with microphones, but the worst part of the sound system was the occasionally deafening roars of static and noise from the speaker near where I was sitting.  I was tempted to change my question to one asking about medical coverage for perforated ear drums for those near the speakers.  

There were the expected cheers for the single payer, and the public option, and there were those who supported the insurance industry profits.  I’d suspect the questions where about 50-50, and the audience by number was about 75-25, but by vocal was 60-40.  The most common issues were about how we could afford this, which the Congresswoman answered reasonably well.  (With my economics background, I would have been itching to explain economic multipliers and deficits as a percentage of GDP, and historical deficits.)  The two answers I personally liked the least were the ones where someone talked about where in the Constitution was the provision to provide the bailout, I’d have answered “Article 1 Section 8 Clause 3, To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states.”  I also did not like her answer about the Hyde Amendment and health care, I am someone who believes the Hyde Amendment is bad policy.

The Congresswoman’s best answer, in my opinion, came after a teabagger’s recitation of incorrect statistics, when she said, “You (the questioner) are no longer listening,” let’s move on.

It is interesting to note that the disruption was almost entirely from a small subset of people on the side of the insurance industry.  They repeatedly interrupted the Congresswoman, as well as anyone who was attempting to ask pro-public option questions.  The most insulting one was when a woman started with “I am one of the Americans who doesn’t have insurance” and a teabagger interrupted with “You aren’t an American.”

I would have liked to ask one of them, as they are not willing to tolerate different opinions, which is the fundamental basis of American civil liberties, why do they hate America so much?

Alas, I was unable to ask my question, as time did not permit it.  For the record, my question would have been:

Given that recent BLS statistics show that San Mateo and San Francisco counties have had the largest job losses outside Detroit, and given that the CARS program has provided stimulus to the extent that it is plausible that our counties will move up to #1 in terms of jobs shed, and given that the newly unemployed are among those with the greatest financial difficulties, does it not make sense to extend the duration of COBRA benefits beyond 18 months at least until employment recovers, and will you also encourage Congress extending ARRRA COBRA premium reductions beyond nine months, and consider making those reductions a permanent part of the COBRA program?

I will be submitting this question to the Congresswoman on-line, and will report back any response.