Waterbury, CT, 9/1/09
Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy, from Connecticut's Fifth Congressional District, is holding open-access meetings with constituents for an hour each morning this week, while Congress is in recess. I thought this might make for interesting pictures of democracy in action, and I wasn't disappointed. Today he was at Library Park in Waterbury. A crowd of about seventy-five came out.
It was clear that health care and related budget/deficit issues were the primary, nearly the only, things constituents wanted to talk about. It was also clear that in this group sentiments were running about two to one against reform, or against Obama administration policies in general. Murphy is a second term Congressman who won the Fifth District seat in 2006 in an upset, unseating long-time Republican Congresswoman Nancy Johnson. Pro-reform and anti-reform groups had signs and slogans, but the anti signs were bigger and more plentiful.
Feelings were running high and there was some shouting, but there were no incidents of screaming or shouting down as have happened at more formal Town Hall meetings held across the country. The format was wide-open "ask your Congressman." Some people were more interested in stating their position, or reading it from computer printouts, than in asking a question so the Congressman sometimes prompted them to get to the point and make it a question. A couple times he had to intervene to keep questioning directed to himself instead of letting it drift into crosstalk and shouting between pro and anti proponents. At one point two gentlemen standing in front of me repeatedly told each other, "shut up, I came here to listen to him, not you."
The questions were varied. Some repeated familiar talking points but others were very personal. One man said that his private health insurance, with an insurer that has about half of such policies in the state, had informed him it would not cover his 18 year old son when he left to attend college in another state. What could the Congressman do about situations like that? A woman said she had just adopted a special needs child, how would health care reform affect her family?
Toward the end of the event, one woman went on at length and Murphy, to clarify, asked her if she meant she was against all government involvement in health care, to which she gave a resounding, "Yes!" So then he asked if she wanted to do away with Medicare, to which she said "Oh, no, I don't!" That brought a loud round of mixed guffaws and groans from pro-reform people in the group.
Scheduled to last from 8:00 to 9:00 AM, Murphy's aides finally pulled him away at 9:15 to head for his next appointment. The New Haven ABC news affiliate station had a reporter and videographer there and ran a short segment on their noontime broadcast. I didn't recognize any other press at the event.