Dicks nixes health care town hall on North Olympic Peninsula, opting for small meeting instead

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

ANGRY CROWDS HAVE put many lawmakers on the defensive as they try to talk about health care with their constituents, leading some to replace public forums with teleconferences or step up security to keep protesters at bay.

The disturbances come at a critical time as lawmakers -- mostly Democrats -- return home for the August recess and host the meetings to boost support to overhaul the nation's costly health care system.

Some Democrats have turned to teleconferences, which can reach more constituents than town halls -- and be more easily controlled.

Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, said the "lynch mob mentality" surrounding the forums led him to hold a conference call last week instead of an in-person forum.

The call attracted 6,000 constituents, a crowd he said was 10 times the size of a typical town hall meeting.

"When you see friends targeted by death threats and you see well-meaning and well-intentioned people being shouted down, threatened, menaced, and our constituents suffering the same fate, it's frustrating," he said.

"This is not American -- it's dangerous."

In Georgia, Rep. Hank Johnson told his constituents not to be deterred by reports of "town halls gone wild," but the Democrat wasn't taking any chances at his first health care forum.

About 15 police officers -- triple the normal security detail -- were on duty Monday evening in case things took a turn.

Some Republicans have seized on noisy demonstrations that disrupted several meetings and clips of clashes posted to YouTube as a sign of lagging public support for President Barack Obama's top domestic policy priority.

The Associated Press
PORT ANGELES -- The threat of disruptive demonstrations against President Barack Obama's proposed health care plan has nixed any chance Rep. Norm Dicks will hold a public forum on the issue when he visits the North Olympic Peninsula this weekend.

He is scheduled to be in Port Angeles on Friday and in Port Townsend on Monday, Dicks' spokesman George Behan said Tuesday.

Dicks, D-Belfair, a supporter of the plan, will attend an RSVP-only health and education forum sponsored by the Clallam County Democratic Party Central Committee at the Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel on Friday morning that is already filled to capacity, with 60 to 70 attendees expected, party Chairman John Marrs said.

A health care panel presentation will be 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and an education panel from 10:30 to noon.

Panel participants will take questions from the audience.

Kessler joins in

State Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, will join Dicks in a luncheon presentation at noon.

Dubbed a "listening session," the forum is primarily intended for the central committee and county precinct officers, Marrs said.

Marrs said health forums across the country have been marked by demonstrations reportedly staged against the health care plan, which includes a government-run option that would cover the estimated 50 million Americans who don't have health insurance.

"A lot of my local people have contacted me because they are concerned about our meeting being disrupted," Marrs said.

Among those attending Friday's sessions will be county Republican Party Chairman Dick Pilling, specially invited by Marrs, who predicted that demonstrators will rally against Dicks and the health care plan, possibly on the Port Angeles Waterfront Trail, which is public property that skirts the hotel's length.

Pilling organized a demonstration against the health care plan July 17 outside Dicks' Port Angeles office that drew 37 people.

"I would be very surprised if people were not there trying to make sure he understood that not everybody agrees with his stance," Pilling said.

"I would hope they would conduct themselves as proper citizens and not riotous bums.

"I will be inside, not to disrupt Mr. Dicks but rather to hear what he has to say."

PT chamber luncheon

Dicks also will give a presentation to a Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce luncheon from noon to 1:30 p.m. Monday at Fort Worden State Park Commons, Behan said.

Dicks, who represents the 6th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, traditionally visits the North Olympic Peninsula during Congress' annual summer recess, which ends Sept. 1.

He often holds town hall meetings, but won't this time, Behan said.

"If you are watching what's happening around the country, there are these disruptive groups coming in and to these types of information sessions trying to make their point in opposition to any health care reform," he said.

"A lot of these groups are using the opportunity to create a distraction."

Behan said Dicks is not afraid of disruptions that might occur at town hall meetings, but "they just don't seem to be productive."

In addition, the House has not agreed on a final health care bill, Behan said.

"There's a lot of misinformation at some meetings you are seeing across the country, and that's another reason it's difficult to sponsor health care forums."

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Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 11. 2009 11:55PM
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