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Spokane Progressives Hold Town Hall Without McMorris Rodgers

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Congress is in recess and that means town hall meetings back in members’ districts.

Last Friday Idaho Republican Congressman Raul Labrador took the stage — and took heat from constituents — in Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene. It was at the Lewiston meeting that Labrador uttered words that immediately put him in the crosshairs of opponents of the American Health Care Act. He said no one has ever died from not having health insurance, the inference being that people can always go to the emergency room because the hospitals can’t turn them away.

One interesting side note about Raul Labrador this week. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that he won’t be running for re-election to Congress next year because he has filed to run for Idaho governor instead.

While Labrador was attending town hall meetings during the recess, Washington’s Cathy McMorris Rodgers stuck to her policy of skipping large gatherings, preferring private meetings with smaller groups of constituents.

So Tuesday evening’s “health care town hall” at the Spokane Unitarian Universalist Church, sponsored by the progressive group Fuse Washington, was more pep rally than listening session. The ‘f’ word, ‘fascist’, was dropped more than once by speakers such as David Randall.

“What we have now is a fascist government," Randall said. "I define fascism as a bunch of rich white guys stripping away the supposedly inalienable rights of all citizens so they can amass an obscene amount of wealth at the expense of the 99%.”

Bill Miller brought his guitar and his new song, a satire that equated Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers with a popular doll from the 1960s.

“I am Chatty Cathy and I so love the rich," Miller said to his own accompaniment. "When they pay me money, honey, I will scratch their itch. All you corporate hucksters can strip the country bare. I’m just a talking dolly so I don’t really care. Chatty Cathy, Chatty Cathy, a vacuous Republican doll…”

Most of the speakers, though, were earnest. Their messages were based on their fears that the dropping of the Affordable Care Act in favor of the American Health Care Act meant bad news for poor people most in need of health insurance.

Dr. Paula Landsberger recalled her days as medical director for Project Access. That’s the Spokane program in which physicians donate their time to see patients without insurance. She said, before the Affordable Care Act, Project Access took about 100 applications a month.

“People desperate for health care because they didn’t have any other options," Landsberger said. "When the Affordable Care Act came in, you know how many applications we get each month? Four. People had real health care. It put me out of a job, I was so happy," she said, laughing. 

"So when certain Republicans of neighboring states say people don’t die because they don’t have health care, I don’t believe it. I’ve seen it,” she said.

Her fervor was matched by a fellow physician, retired family practice and emergency room doctor William Lamont Worden. He described himself as a former Air Force lieutenant colonel who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm. As he recited the broad list of organizations that have come out in opposition to the AHCA.

“Even conservative organizations such as Tea Party Patriots, Cato Institute, Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Works and Club for Growth oppose it," Worden said.

As he continued his testimony, he built to this crescendo.

“Health insurance companies raise the cost of health care premiums, deny patients medical treatment due to pre-existing conditions, and even withdraw their services altogether from entire counties or states to benefit their own self interests. My simple question is why doesn’t the United States of America join the rest of the civilized, developed countries of the world and offer its citizens a single-payer Medicare-for-all national health care plan,” he said to loud applause.

Several speakers vowed to support candidates who run against Cathy McMorris Rodgers, if she decides to run again in 2018.


Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR
Spokane physician Paula Landsberger said the Affordable Care Act greatly reduced the number of applications for free medical care through Spokane's Project Access program.