Sen. Dan Sullivan had to know it was coming this week. But he probably didn’t know how underwhelming the turnout was when Planned Parenthood targeted him in Anchorage while he was meeting with the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.
The protest group gathered at the door of the Petroleum Club to make him walk through their noisy gauntlet, but he simply walked in the entrance on the other side of the building. Evidently none of the protest organizers had ever been to the Petroleum Club of Anchorage.
Madeleine Grant, who identified herself as a doctor with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, told the Alaska Dispatch News she was protesting because “she had seen the catastrophic damage that can occur when people are uninsured during her previous positions at community health centers.”
Using her official position to make a political statement may be a violation of the venerable Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political action during work hours. Using their official status to engage in political activity is strictly prohibited by law.
On Friday, Sullivan was at the Alaska’s Capitol in Juneau to deliver his update on all-things-DC, and a group showed up with bullhorns, a baby and a few pre-printed signs supporting public funding of abortions and Planned Parenthood.
They were led by a professional-sounding chanter, “What does democracy look like?” “This is what democracy looks like,” they shouted.
The sun shone brightly on the new snow and the air was warm as protesters honked a horn repeatedly, demanding more from Sullivan for Medicaid, Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood.
There were a dozen of them, which by Alaska Capitol standards is barely enough to get media to say “meh.” One of the stations livestreamed the protest, just in case, but it did not make for particularly good television. In the end, the lack of attendance was the newsworthy item.
Earlier in the week, Sen. Lisa Murkowski had voiced her support for Planned Parenthood funding. She has been a consistent supporter of the organization, to the consternation of the more conservative Republicans in the state.
But when KTUU reporter Austin Baird asked Sen. Sullivan whether he, too, supported funding the abortion provider, he said he would rather see the funds distributed among the more than 150 health clinics statewide that provide general care for people, not for the four Planned Parenthood clinics that primarily serve urban people.
Outside the media availability, the Planned Parenthood protesters chanted on as their numbers began to dwindle: “We want a town hall,” and “Shame on you!”
When asked by a reporter why he didn’t hold a town hall as the protesters were demanding, Sullivan said — and we’re paraphrasing — he meets with people regularly, but he’s not interested in getting in the middle of a shoutfest.
Planned Parenthood is an openly partisan organization that pays people to go door-to-door every election, and use various methods to only support Democrat Party candidates. It’s protest organizers are also paid, and those paid organizers are funded, in one way or another, by taxpayer dollars.
Planned Parenthood received $553.7 million in funding in 2015 from the government, which is about 40 percent of its annual budget.
Medicaid is one of those funding streams that Republicans in Congress could affect through appropriation. Medicaid represents 75% of the government support that Planned Parenthood gets for 650 clinics around the nation, four of them in urban centers in Alaska. The money helps the group test for sexually transmitted diseases and provide some reproductive health services, such as birth control. The money also enables the organization to use its other funds to provide abortions.
With a Republican majority in the House, Senate and White House, Planned Parenthood is mobilizing its grassroots base across the country, banking on the post-election discontent among Democrats to propel its message. Suddenly, Planned Parenthood protests are everywhere. Pink pussy hats are the new black.
But is fatigue setting in? A tiny protest at Alaska’s Capitol on a bluebird day, when organizers were hoping to see supporters out in force, must have been a disappointment. By 12:30 pm, when most state workers in the downtown core were available to picket with the small band of shouters, the support was embarrassingly small. This was in spite of the efforts of paid organizers, the formidable political machinery of Planned Parenthood, and a setting amidst the most liberal city in Alaska.