Braving over 95 degree heat, more than 2,000 Albuquerquians turned out for a town hall meeting sponsored by Rep. Martin Heinrich of the 1st congressional district of New Mexico, most of whom were in support of health care reform and the public option.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, people lined up as early as 7:30 AM for a meeting that was to begin at 3:00 PM. Judging by the signs and decals that attendees wore, at least two thirds of the turnout was in support of real health care with a public option.
Terry Schleder, Field Consultant for the New Mexico Alliance for Retired Americans, stated that she was flabbergasted at the turnout that put her organizing efforts to good use, but dwarfed anything that she could create. While the UNM Continuing Education auditorium was filled to its 600 people capacity, 300 watched the event on separate TV rooms and the rest had to stay outside the hall.
Labor organizers from AFSCME, AFT, and CWA were very vigorous in reminding their members of this town hall meeting, with positive results. The crowd was so huge both inside the auditorium and outside, that organized efforts to identify various participants seemed to be swamped.
Congressman Heinrich in his opening remarks mentioned the effective participation of Bernice Romero and her personal health care story. Romero is president of the CWA Retirees and also a board member of the state Alliance for Retired Americans. As a retired member of CWA she had been fighting for health care relief due to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Despite the loud and aggressive participation of the teabaggers, Congressman Heinrich received a standing ovation for his support of public option as he came into the room. Whenever someone raised a question in support of health care reform, at least two thirds of the audience broke into loud applause.
When the teabaggers fielded a question, they also hooted and hollered and tried to turn their questions into inflammatory speeches. Their questions ran the gamut of Republican lies – everything from the costs of health care to questions about death panels for seniors, the constitutionality of public option, and increased taxes for everyone. Heinrich deftly refuted all these claims.
The panel accompanying Heinrich was composed of: Dr. Michael Richards, Chair of the Dept. of Emergency Medicine of NM University; Paul Gessing, President of the conservative Rio Grande Foundation, and Dr. John R. Vigil, Medical Director of Doctors On Call Urgent Care Clinics. Each question from the audience was answered by Rep. Heinrich and the panelists. Richards came out in support of reform and public option. Gessing took the lead in opposing public option, and Dr. Vigil seemed to vacillate.
One of the most outrageous statements made by Gessing was that he favored cost reduction in health care by limiting insurance to cover crisis and emergency use only, ignoring the need for preventive care.
It was obvious from the composition of the panel and the responses of Rep. Heinrich to questions that Heinrich was determined not to be provoked and to give bipartisan answers to many questions while at the same time stating boldly that he will support the public option in health care.
The organizers of the town hall meeting, in conjunction with the local Democratic Party, MoveOn.org, the local labor unions and Organizing for America, were able to keep disruption at a minimum.
The teabaggers were loud and vociferous, and received unequal treatment in the local media, but the people hung in there and with their bodies told the congressman that they want a strong public option in the health reform bill.
One of the unique things at this event was the fact that the Albuquerque Raging Grannies sang health care reform songs as people entered the building. The Raging Grannies, a local senior singing group, have been outstanding in their creation of songs in support of health care for all. Whenever there has been a public political event, the Grannies can be counted on to be there and give support with their sharply worded lyrics.