10 August 2009

Congressman Jeff Flake's Town Hall

This evening, I had the privilege to go and listen to my representative speak on the issue of healthcare reform, and to hear him respond to questions from his constituents regarding the 1,000-plus-page "America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009" (HR 3200), better known as "ObamaCare." It was actually kind of an adventure just getting to the event. After I made dinner for my family, I left the house at 5:30pm for the six o'clock town hall. I figured on having plenty of time to take the highway down to Val Vista and then cut south to Riggs Road to get to Basha High School. However, I had underestimated the number of constituents trying to also get to the meeting, and MapQuest didn't alert me that Val Vista, south of the 202 South is a one-lane road all the way to Riggs. So I was stuck in traffic behind some rather not-so-good drivers for nearly 30 minutes between the highway and the school - nearly double my time. However, I did finally get there, and I got a parking space up front (wasn't expecting THAT!) only to find:Yep, you guessed it. Because I was late (I got there at about 6:20pm) they had filled to capacity and the Fire Marshall wasn't allowing anyone else to enter the school's gym. The crowd standing around the gates was trying to inquire about whether or not they'd let people in later, or what to do, since they'd all driven a decent distance like myself. Here, Security stands by at the gate, JUST in case (you'll see why in a moment):The news vans were likewise out in force. I saw channel 3, ABC15 news, the Tribune newspaper, and others getting some B-roll of the crowd and talking with random supporters/dissenters. Then I got wind of something happening behind me near a fire engine that had been parked nearby. Apparently, an old woman in her mid-eighties or ninties had brought a homemade sign to the event which said simply, "I am the angry mob. No to Obama Care."Now, multiple choice time. Did the officer standing there: A) tell her to keep up the good work, B) tell her she was a true patriot, or C) tell her to get rid of the sign and threaten to arrest her and remove her from the premises if she didn't comply? If you answered C, you'd be correct. Apparently the Chandler School District has some sort of problem with political messages on their campuses, even when it's a public forum after school hours, when school is not in session for summer, and when the woman was exercising her first amendment rights peacefully and rather quietly. You know what happened next. Several other people (myself included) gathered around the scene and tried to inquire what the problem was, and why the "School Resource Officer" was being so stubborn. Of course, there were a few loudmouths, but when I tried to ask why the sign needed to be removed from public property at a public forum, the officer snapped at me and told me to "shut up." Not cool, man. So, School Resource Officer D. Woodard, I don't know why you found that nice woman's political sign so offensive (mostly because I got told to "shut up" when I asked rather calmly), and I don't know why the school district apparently has a problem with freedom of speech at a political forum (it's protected speech, after all), but I think you need to go take a couple classes on handling yourself more appropriately around people. Scary to think that people like him are trying to help high school students. So, after I was drawn away from that debacle because Congressman Flake's staff member Chad Heywood was making an announcement about the process for getting questions to the Congressman for those who could not get into the event, I got swept up in the crowd hovering around this scene:The two women on the right (one in blue, whom you can just see behind the woman with dark hair) and the three guys on the left and center (one in a a black shirt, the one with the big camera, and the one in the orange shirt) were getting into a nice shouting match with one another over the healthcare bill. Unfortunately, the scene was a big more than staged. The gentleman with the camera was from a group called Freedom's Phoenix, an extreme Right-wing (okay, more like extreme Libertarian) group that touts itself as "Reigniting the Flames of Freedom" and "Uncovering the Secrets & Exposing the Lies." The other two guys seemed to be his cohorts. Sadly, Freedom's Phoenix in all its fiery passion was only there to shout down opposition. The man in the black shirt was a big instigator in all this, not giving the ObamaCare bill's proponents a chance to speak, and instead asking the two women there to respond to quips and quotes from Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ben Franklin, and the US Constitution. When one of the women would say "I'm not responding to one-liners that you're using as propaganda," the Phoenix members would yell to the crowd that they were calling the Constitution propaganda. That kind of thing. Unfortunately, those are the people who get "hired" to come to these events and make YouTube videos (which, when I find it, I will link to it for y'all to see) and give people like Nancy Pelosi ammunition to use against actual concerned citizens who attend these town halls as a means to share their opinions with their elected officials. Anyway, you could see the tensions flaring, and at one point there was name-calling (the woman in blue called some 17-year-old a "stupid b****" and later proceeded to hit the guy in black. So it's probably for the best that they ended up walking away from one another shortly thereafter. (I did kind of help in that. When the women walked away from the guys and the guys tried to follow, I asked a question and stepped quickly in between them. They kind of dissipated after that.) Finally, around 7:15 or so, enough of the original crowd had left the auditorium that our "mob" was allowed to enter. I caught the ear of the guy in black, who tried to argue to me that the women proponents of the single-payer choice healthcare reform shouldn't be allowed to speak because they were "spreading lies." I countered that the first amendment to the Constitution (which he was so vehement about making her answer to) didn't limit the right of people to speak just because what they said may or may not have been true. Sadly, his one-track mind couldn't seem to grasp that. Have I mentioned before that I value hearing all sides of the argument? Having one side shout the other down bothers me - especially if it's my party doing the shouting. C'mon, we're better than that! Once inside, I chose a vacant bleacher seat near the front of the room and snapped a couple quick photos before listening to the questions and Congressman Flake's answers. The crowd (a la 7:30pm):Congressman Flake listening intently to a question on the proposed bill's provision to automatically deduct healthcare payments from anyone enrolled in the system via electronic funds transfers from their bank accounts:His response to that question, that it's a scary part of the bill:The Congressman mentioned a few other things in the bill that I didn't know before, too. Here are a few more questions and answers that I jotted down while listening. Q: Do you believe that the Democrats will be using this bill as a means to an end to get everyone on a government healthcare system? A: Yes, Congressman Flake does believe that passing this legislation "will inevitably lead to [everyone being on] a single-payer system," if for no other reason than that a government system will eventually push out and supercede most other private systems, so to have insurance, you'll have to be on the government's rolls. Q: How in the world can we allow our children to have to pay for this down the road? A: "We are committing generational theft" with all this legislation, and our children will end up footing a hefty bill if the Congress doesn't stop spending. Q: How do you respond to the idea that the government will essentially be setting standards on who lives and who dies? A: The "government will have to ration either by costs or by services. It's a legitimate fear of many that the government will start to ration services." His explanation was more lengthy than I was able to take down in shorthand, but essentially, government has to be able to control costs somehow. When the government is forced to reduce spending due to forces like recession or what-have-you, it has two choices: either make people pay more for the same services, or ration services by telling some people that they cannot have some procedures. If you're a dying chronic alcoholic who needs a heart transplant, why wouldn't the government say that, well, golly, you can't have a new heart since we can't afford to pay for it and for one for patient Y, a healthy, wealthy philanthropist. You'd just abuse it anyway with more alcohol and unhealthy living, while Patient Y donates money to political campaigns. Other comments: don't give healthcare emergency care benefits to the 12-14 million illegal aliens in the United States, don't allow the government to use public healthcare monies to fund abortion, and to please talk to Senators Kyl and McCain about cosponsoring the Senate version of HR 1206 to audit the Federal Reserve. Perhaps my favorite line of the night came after the adjounrment of the town hall. Congressman Flake stayed behind for almost an extra hour talking with constituents, and someone eventually asked him what made him most upset about this bill (or at least, that's what I thought was said; it was kind of loud). Congressman Flake responded that the most upsetting thing about this bill is the mentality in Congress that "it's good enough for you, but not good enough for us (members of Congress)." I gotta say, I'm pretty proud of having such a caring person for a Congressman. Not many of the leaders I've had the privilege of meeting over my tenure in the College Republicans and as an intern/campaign worker/volunteer have been willing to go the extra mile that Congressman Flake does. In one of my prior positions, I found out that not only does Congressman Flake himself read the letters sent to him by his constituents, he responds personally, and signs thank you letters himself, sometimes by the hundreds. I can't tell you how often we got to use the signature stamp at the office of the last Congressman with whom I interned. I know I've complained about the Republican Party more than my fair share this year, and for good reason, I think (incidents like the Brett Mecum arrest and the inability of the Governor and Legislature to come to agreement on the budget come to mind). That said, Congressman Flake is the kind of kindred spirit of the average Joe in the position of a leader that I wish I could see more of in Congress. A final photo of the Congressman after the town hall, and before I got to say hello as he was leaving for the night:


  1. On the note of Congressman Flake responding to letters, my boss actually got a phone call from him after sending an e-mail.

    Matt Bock

  2. Has anyone asked Jeff Flake if he is happy with his government paid for insurance? Does he think Physicians take their oath to help people or to line their pockets? Does he think Insurance companies take an oath to help people? or make profits? which amounts to millions each year for the top health insurance managers. Why don't the people who have been denied health insurance or can't pay the fee because of a preexisting conition speak up? These townhalls are full of fear mongers who want the status quo, Profits for insurance companies and not enough compassion for the ill. Give a health care plan a non- partison chance. We're foolish to think our healthcare system is helping our citizens as much as it should or could.

  3. Anonymous,

    To some extent I agree with you regarding the state of our healthcare system. It's not helping people as much as it could. But we need real reforms, not a government-run single-payer system, as this legislation would be likely to turn into.

    Personally, I favor changes like allowing insurance to be purchased by out-of-state buyers. Currently, I believe that if you buy health insurance in Arizona, it has to be an Arizona company selling it, likewise for the rest of the states. Allowing people from Arizona to purchase insurance from, say, New Hampshire does two things: first, it gives consumers more choices in their healthcare coverage; second it allows for more market competition and thus lower prices.

    I have three big beefs with this plan, though as I read more of it, I find more I disagree with. The first thing I don't like is the penalty for people who elect not to have health insurance. If I choose not to carry insurance, I don't think it's right for the government to fine me up to $1000.00 for that. Secondly, I am not comfortable with provisions which allow the government to garnish or take money from a person's checking account without their authorization to pay for their coverage under the public option plan. Finally, I am worried that under a single-payer public option plan, private businesses will be put under. Government, when it runs efficiantly, tends to monopolize industry. And if government monopolization of the healthcare insurance industry does occur, it not only damages healthcare, it subverts one of the fundamental tenets of the American economy, capitalism by competition.

    I think we need a better dialogue between the parties on the issue of healthcare reform. The way this current legislation was brought about was by one party steamrolling the other. It's not a nonpartisan bill, as you said you hope the issue could be. The Democrats on the Hill need to open lines of communication with the Republicans, sit down, and have a real debate over the best reforms to include in an insurance-industry overhaul, if one is needed. Then the bill itself needs to be an open bill, rather than a closed bill, and they need to give legislators and the public an appropriate amount of time to read and analyze it. When that happens, I think we'll see not only better legislation, but the beginnings of healing the rift of extremism between the parties.

    Thanks for the comment. I'd be happy to talk more about the issue if you like.