Kudos to the Congressman and his staff for hosting a successfully civil discourse Town Hall meeting last night in Ilwaco, in Pacific County, WA. And of course, the primary range of questions had to do with Health Care/Insurance Reform. Death threats to the Congressman aside, he still managed to conduct his usual in-person Town Hall meetings in several Southwest Washington counties.
What was the process?
I can't speak to the in person Town Hall meetings he held in other counties except for what I've read in media (some of which has been reported at Washblog). I can speak to the TH we attended in Ilwaco last night. Also Baird has added telephone Town Hall meetings as well to his usual array of in-person TH meetings in the SW counties.
The Ilwaco TH meeting was orderly and permitted the many to hear both the questions and Baird's responses without interruption or interference. Which is precisely what I wanted - information and not the drama of interference that has been the hallmark of many other TH meetings across the nation.
We arrived at the high school, and yes, there was a tiny contingent of less than impressive 'protesters' with their home-made cardboard signs. They kept their behavior under control and did not molest the people as they were coming into the auditorium. We signed in, and we were asked if we wanted to ask a question of the Congressman; if so, we were given a number (kind of like at an auction).
We were seated and it was explained by the moderator that corresponding numbers were in a twirl cage (bingo comes to mind), and numbers would be picked at random. Those persons who held those numbers would come forward to be seated in the first row of seats. Each would then get 3 minutes of time at the microphone to state their concerns, ask their questions and the Congressman would have 3 minutes of time to respond.
Questions came from both parties. I think people are sophisticated enough to filter out what is rhetoric and focus in on the actual question, when there is a question and not just a 3 minute pulpit for speech making. The Congressman's opportunity to respond, or better said, give the facts as he knows them, provided a format that helped enormously to dispel some of the rhetorical myths, giving the auditorium of people an opportunity to listen to and hear the information.
In Congressman Baird's Town Halls that we have attended in the past, even when my own emotions have been highly charged, (ie, his vote in 2007 for the Surge in Iraq where our son-in-law was deployed), he has been respectful to all, including us, in responding to concerns and questions. Last night's Town Hall was no exception. He was respectful, courteous, and responsive to every question, even the few who formulated their questions in what seemed designed to bait him. He actually was skillful in handling those baiting type questions, both responding and further elaborating on concerns and situations that led to the current Health Care Reform issue.
It was a 2 hour TH meeting, so obviously, there was not time for everyone who might have wanted to ask a question to have a turn at the microphone. But with the quality of the kinds of questions asked, and Baird's informative responses, I think probably most of the concerns people had in their minds received air time in a very Civil dialogue.
Earlier in August, I was also on one of Baird's telephone TH meetings (Pacific County), and got to ask my question of him; specifically what concerns about the Health Care Reform Bill did he have as he has said he is unsure how he will vote when it comes up for vote in Congress. Frankly, I would like to see him vote for the Bill with all of it's warts and flaws rather than to vote against it. I sense that voting for the Bill starts the ball rolling, probably with a lot of tweaks needed in years to come. Whereas to vote against it because of it's imperfections does little to alter or change the current deeply flawed Health Care 'system'.
As Baird explained he has heard from doctors, it is not really a system so much as an evolution that has evolved into a complex hodge podge of health care that some get and some don't.
On a personal note, I do have to be a bit amused at one of the questions last night. The Chair of the Republican Party in our 3rd Congressional District was among one of those whose number was called, giving her time at the microphone. She has had time at earlier Town Hall meeting in another county to state her concerns to the Congressman and she did make an offer of her home as a venue for the Congressman to hold an in- person Town Hall, guaranteeing him an assurance of safety she would personally provide. He did thank her for and it did seem he accepted the offer; I'm not sure he intended to hold a Town Hall in her home, nor would that be logical. He did hold the in person Town Hall in Ilwaco, at the high school - a more appropriate venue and approximately 2 miles from her home. She has not been deprived of opportunity of access to the Congressman, nor of opportunity to state her concerns or questions.
She has had a beef with what she terms his rejection of her offer, labeling it as evidence of an unwillingness on the part of Congressman Baird to hold in-person Town Hall meetings. She has both blogged it and arranged for a newspaper article in The Columbian, of her account of his rejection of her offer. In my opinion, it goes to show the 'slant' of her perspective in presenting the situation as a rejection, as an unwillingness on Baird's part to conduct in person Town Hall meetings. And it is a perspective she is pleased to broadcast in the media and telegraph to her party. It was, in fact, Baird offering a more appropriate venue with a wider opportunity, for the larger populace in the area to participate in an in person Town Hall. Probably safer for everyone also, with the County Sheriff there, and the presence of uniformed officers stationed along the side corridors.
Her concern as she stated it in the question last night to Congressman Baird were some remarks he had made in earlier years; favoring universal health care and duration terms of office. Baird corrected the perception she had of his earlier remarks on terms of office. She spoke again indicating she was in favor of all people having access to health care, and when Baird asked if she was in favor of universal health care, she said no, she was not, and promptly sat down. There was a bit of a buzz talk after that exchange amongst the people in the auditorium.
Highlighting this more to illustrate, in my opinion, a tactic of intent on the part of the Republican party in trying to direct attention away from the Health Care Reform issue, while offering little of substantive value as an alternative method to adjust the disparities in health care as we know it today. Congressman Baird is not the issue, nor is the next election. Health Care Reform is the issue on many people's mind and they seem to want information, not politicking.
My thanks to Brian Baird for the opportunity to learn what I felt I wanted and needed to learn about Health Care Reform - less the noise of disruptive interference. Good job in putting together the Ilwaco Town Hall meeting.