COMMENTARY AND OBSERVATIONS: LOTS OF BERNIE VOTERS
The auditorium at Bartlett High School was filled and the crowd lined the walls for Sen. Dan Sullivan’s Anchorage town hall meeting. Most of the more than 600 attendees were activists representing Planned Parenthood, teachers unions, the Alaska Democratic Party, and the Democratic Socialists of Anchorage. An opposition tracker was observed video recording the entire exchange.
They found no redeeming qualities in the senator who had come came before them at their demand. They showed him little respect, and many of them seemed to want to outdo each other with their shouted invectives.
The town hall was not going to be civil, that was evident from the start.
But the Marine at the front of the room treated the audience with respect. Although taunted, he didn’t insult them when they yelled out that he was “racist” or a “liar.” He acted as though they were mature adults who could be reasoned with.
About 25 members of the audience were in his court, but by-and-large, this was a hostile town hall and played into the hands of the Indivisible movement that was born of frustrated Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders voters.
Attendees were given green and red cards to use to show their approval or disapproval of the senator’s remarks, which opened with about 25 minutes of comments.
When he wasn’t interrupted by boos, jeering laughter or taunting insults (“You’re not from here, go back to where you came from!”) Sullivan spoke to the importance of the American economy, national security, and especially about tackling the opioid crisis in Alaska.
The remaining hour was devoted to questions from the audience, which were not prescreened, but drawn at random.
Some questions pertained to health care. Sullivan made it clear that the American Health Care Act passed by the House of Representatives still needs work, and the Senate’s version will be vastly different.
The crowd roared “Single payer!”
Sullivan tackled that issue head on: “I’m pretty sure I’m going to get the biggest amount of red cards for this, but single payer is not a workable option for me.”
If showing up was an act of courage, so were his instincts: The red cards went up.
Questioners from the audience frequently demanded a yes or no answer to their questions, and that demand was supported by the people in the stands. When asked if he supports keeping Medicaid expansion, Sullivan went into an explanation about the unique characteristics of the population covered by Obamacare Medicaid expansion: They are able-bodied adults. They are far over the poverty line. They do not have children. They have the ability to work.
Sullivan’s answer was met with even more verbal abuse.
One audience member asked the senator, in all sincerity, to tone down the rhetoric around health care. That person, however, didn’t give Sullivan the courtesy of allowing him to respond without ridicule.
Mr. Whitekeys asked the senator, a Marine standing in front of a nearly universally hostile audience, if he had the courage to vote in the best interest of Alaska. Whitekeys is a bar singer and comedian in Anchorage who makes a specialty of skewering politicians, particularly Republicans.
Red cards waved when Sullivan pointed out that the reduction in greenhouse emissions former President Barack Obama touted came primarily from natural gas development.
But perhaps the harshest reaction from the audience came from people who shouted down Sullivan for pointing out, correctly, that for many Alaskans, the biggest threat to the economy is the cost of health care, which was made worse by Obamacare.
Throughout the event, Sullivan was self-deprecating and deft at diffusing tensions, handling the situation with grace and dignity.
Sullivan’s staff may prefer to characterize the crowd as “spirited,” but this observer will stick with “raucous” and “disrespectful.”
At the conclusion, around 35 people rose to applaud him for his efforts. The activists were already moving to the exits to wave their signs at the departing motorists.
One observer was reminded of a James Madison quote in Federalist Paper 63, which said, “Such an institution (the Senate) may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions.”
The wisdom of the quote was proven throughout the evening; statesmanship was in short supply, but had a quorum of 1.