A Town Hall of One

December 01, 2013

It was almost a month, to the day, that Americans for Prosperity–Florida hosted a town hall in Orlando to breakdown the myths and realities of the Affordable Care Act that we were now more than submersed in. We hosted a series of events, eleven in all, across the state. We organized panels composed of industry experts in tax policy, insurance benefits, and local doctors who gave unbiased presentations of how the Affordable Care Act was going to affect the coverage plans, taxes, and the relationship between patients and their doctors for all Floridians.

Small business owners, seniors and students had the opportunity to ask the tough questions of our panelists. While ample time was given to those who attended to ask their questions, no outside groups or activists gave speeches or unwarranted testimony showing their hand of whether they approve or disapprove of the ACA. There were event known left-leaning activists present who thought they were being slick by holding up their smart phone to record our panelists. Well, guess what? We could see you, and we weren’t bothered by it. To tell you the truth, we were rather encouraged when we noticed you nodding approvingly during each presentation. We thought, maybe there is a chance after all to reach even the most entrenched liberal activists.

That brings us to what happened on Monday, November 25th in Orlando.

The Orange County Legislative Delegation called for a special Town Hall to about the ACA. Now, attending and speaking at County Delegation meetings are among the many activities AFP takes advantage of to engage with our local elected officials. County Delegations are made up of the sitting members of the state house and state senate that touch a particular county.

The actual Orange County delegation meeting was several weeks ago. We had an opportunity to present the 14 member (8 Democrat, 6 Republican) delegation that represents Orange County with a list of our priorities issues, in particular our position on opposing the expansion of Medicaid. These meetings are a great way for us to speak to a number of elected officials with at the same time, where other groups from all over the county get a chance to speak as well, and they are almost always equally represented by conservative and progressive requests.
With that said, what happened on Monday was not a typical delegation meeting. It was a Town Hall of one – it was President Obama’s.

The meeting started traditionally with the pledge and a prayer. But what transpired was anything but normal. As one member began to take the role, it was apparent that the only people present were the members of the Democratic caucus. Interestingly enough, the Republican members all had excused absences from the meeting.
At first glance this wasn’t completely out of the ordinary. Members miss these meetings regularly for one reason or another. But then the agenda spelled out what was really going on. Four presentations were slated, which were followed by a gaggle of speakers who would provide public testimony.

The first speaker was Carl Patten, Director for the Center for Health Policy for Florida Blue, a member of Enroll America. The second was Karen Woodall, Executive Director for Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. The third was Rich Rasmussen, Vice President of Membership Relations at Florida Hospital Association. The keynote presentations were wrapped up by Anne Packham, Medical Exchange Project Coordinator at Primary Care Access Network, one of the groups who received grant money from the federal government to serve as navigators. Do you see a pattern here?

The keynote speakers were each applauded by the singularly representing delegation, and as if you couldn’t wipe the arrogant grin off their faces, they each asked leading questions of the speakers. Keep in mind this was all being recorded on local access television and as such is now in the public record. These obviously leading questions lead to answers like, “expanding Medicaid will create jobs and lead to better care,” and “Republicans are giving away your tax dollars by not expanding Medicaid in this state,” and one of our favorites, “besides, what’s the problem? The Federal Government is going to pay for it.”

The presentations were followed by “community organizers” from labor unions like SEIU, Planned Parenthood, Florida CHAIN, and of course Organizing for Action (OFA).
One quick side note…James Callahan of OFA’s opening statement was to describe OFA as being a non-partisan organization. Admittedly, out of body laughter almost occurred. OFA was literally called Obama for America until this year, and is only now Organizing for Action. Seriously? Non-partisan?

After each community organizer got their chance to reiterate what the last one said the meeting was set to end. But that was where the wheels really came off on this wild ride.
Each member of the delegation took the opportunity to thank the speakers again for their dedication and perseverance. That led Senator Daren Soto to implore the group to gang tackle Speaker Will Weatherford’s email inbox with request for expansion.

We then heard from Representative Joe Saunders who took the opportunity to gloat about conceptualizing this non-inclusive event with Representative Linda Stewart during a stint in Tallahassee for committee meetings. The exact manner in which he spoke left us wondering if they included their Republican delegates in the development of this meeting.

Then Representative Stewart thanked everyone for thanking her for thinking of hosting this Town Hall of One. She then turned her attention to Mrs. Packahm and thanked her for the work she was doing, exploding with emotion over the number of navigators she has been assured are in Orange County working in the community.

But the best may have come from Representative Bracy Randolph who just couldn’t help himself. He point blank suggested to the audience to encourage the business community to stop supporting the other party in order to make it easier for his party to raise more money and take over on such important issues. Was this an inappropriate statement to make in such a public forum? You decide…

After enduring this charade, our mission is ever clearer. When elected officials, of any party, take it upon themselves to parade a particular position in such an aggressively partisan way, conservatives have to stand together and fight indecency where it lay. The lack of transparency and inclusion that was on display was regretful. Please join our effort to make Florida the most transparent and Economically Free state by sharing this post, contacting your elected official to stand against the expansion of Medicaid, and contact us to put you in touch with a local Field Coordinator who can help you make a difference.

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