Jeff Jardine

Question-and-deflect session with Denham ensured acrimony at town hall in Denair

They asked Jeff Denham where he stood on health care insurance, meaning Obamacare or whatever mother of all insurance bombs Paul Ryan and the GOP might drop on millions of Americans the next time they try to replace or eradicate it.

Repealing Obama’s Affordable Care Act would eliminate coverage for 83,000 people in Stanislaus County who either bought their plans through the Covered California exchange or signed up for expanded Medi-Cal benefits, not to mention killing thousands of jobs in health care locally.

Denham, the Republican congressman from Turlock, deflected the question by talking about the need for more doctors here in the Valley. That wasn’t what they asked him, so they asked again. He deflected again, repeating the need for more doctors here in the Valley.

No one disagrees that the Valley needs more well-trained physicians and that UC Merced could someday be a fantastic place to school and train them. But again, that wasn’t the question. After all, what good would more doctors do here or anywhere else if people can’t afford the health care insurance to go see them?

So they asked again. He deflected again.

The exchange drove some the frustrated and angry folks among the estimated 1,000 who attended Monday’s Government Night town hall meeting in Denair to demand, “Answer the question!”

That kind of dialogue – direct questions and indirect answers, followed by repeated direct questions and repeated indirect answers – became the tenor of the evening. It mirrored what representatives and senators, more so among the GOP, both generate and face in town halls all across the nation these days and in an era where if you spin something enough times, the cable shows will take the bait. Denham just took longer to appear at one than many others in Congress, some of whom refuse to meet with constituents publicly at all.

The irony is that by swerving away from the health care question, he actually answered it. Yes, you can safely presume Denham would have voted to repeal Obamacare had the Republicans mustered enough support to bring it to a vote last month. His website bannered “Repeal and Replace” on the cover page for a time. And if he didn’t support repeal and replace, he could have said so to Monday night’s crowd. Ultimately, Denham said told them he supports allowing children to stay on their parents’ health coverage until age 26 and to preserve the pre-existing conditions element.

Then it was on to climate change, with a questioner asking about mankind’s impact on it through the reliance on fossil fuels, meaning oil. Did he believe humans cause it? Denham rambled until they demanded, “Yes or no?!” before admitting there is something to it.

Throw in a couple of “do your job” chants, and the mood was anything but warm and fuzzy. It was that kind of night, with detractors challenging him on every topic – even during the introductions – the crowd interrupting his answers, and Denham frequently responding like a preschool teacher trying to talk kids down off a sugar high and into circle time.

Or his supporters telling his detractors to “let him talk!” so that he could redirect the questions without interruption. It was a night when some supporters of Denham and President Donald Trump got into a shouting match with a Denham critic seated in the row directly behind them. It denigrated into “Shut up!” “No, you shut up!”

It also was a night where some questioners took minutes to get to the heart of their questions, which in a couple of cases really weren’t questions at all.

Some folks, including a woman sitting a couple of seats away from me and one of those involved in the “shut up!” dustup, seemed so worked up that you hoped they had quality health care, including a good prescription plan for blood pressure meds. Some screeched at him to the point where even people who were on their side wanted them to quiet down.

Still, the disgruntled masses finally got to speak their minds, even though to Denham it must have seemed like passing a kidney stone without painkillers. Or insurance.

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