Darrell Issa conservatives are civil at their “own” town hall meetings

by on September 3, 2009 · 28 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Health, Media, Organizing, San Diego, War and Peace

Inside Rancho Buena Vista High School gym, September 2, 2009. All photos by Frank Gormlie.

By 6:00 pm, there was a long line that stretched from the gym’s doors almost all the way to the main road, lining the school’s parking lot as it crept up the small hill.  Doug and I were at Rancho Buena Vista High School for Congressman Darrell Issa’s Town Hall meeting on health care.  We had driven to southern Vista – a land of new suburbs, condos and malls – from the southern reaches of the county. Everything in sight seemed to have been built in the last ten to twenty years or so.

It had been a long drive from San Diego, and so we had a while to muse about was in store for us.  While in line, we noticed several things: there weren’t as many signs – either pro-health care reform or anti. Plus we didn’t see any crazy wingnuts out with their images of Obama with the Hitler mustache or with white face. They weren’t showing off, at least.  And, there weren’t any gun-toters either in view. Whew! That was a relief.

Yet, we were in conservativeland. We knew that going up to Wednesday’s meet.  We knew it would be a different town hall scene than the one held in Spring Valley last weekend with Congresswoman Susan Davis. But we didn’t know just how different it was going to be.  We wondered how many Democrats or progressives would be at this event, as Darrell Issa is a very slick and conservative Republican, former businessman – as he kept reminding us throughout the evening.   Issa had been one of the leaders of the movement that recalled former Democratic governor Gray Davis.  And we knew that Issa and Glenn Beck’s 912 organization had mobilized for the evening.

They packed us in to the non-air conditioned gymnasium – all 1500 of us.  By time we took our seats on the wood bleachers, half the audience was using the fliers passed out as fans. Supposedly hundreds were left in the night air to listen to the speeches and questions (outside had an excellent sound system, by the way, and was much cooler than inside) – the estimate from the stage was that there was another 1500 outside. This would mean that Issa had drawn a crowd of 3,000.

Rep Darrell Issa confers with his aides before he takes the stage. Rick Roberts (in coat and with water bottle) checks his messages.

Guess who emceed this event?  None other than right-wing radio personality Rick Roberts himself.  Media savvy Republicans staged this event to the T. Roberts had a great radio voice, commanding and controlling.  And once Issa took the stage, you could tell he could handle himself with great finesse. A right-wing finesse. A slickness that you don’t often see Democratic politicians with.  About a third of the audience stood for Issa as he took the steps to the stage.

As the evening proceeded, the contrasts between what we were experiencing and what had transpired at the Susan Davis event were as different as night and day.

First, I noticed much more mainstream media TV news cameras.  Doug offered that Orange County – not that far away – had also sent media.  The sound system was better.  You could hear what was said throughout the hall. At Davis’ event, I had stood in the back and could only hear about half of what was said from the stage or from the questions.

But the biggest difference, which became more and more apparent, was that everyone was civil. No shouting, no chanting, no rude interruptions from the floor or the bleachers, no rancor.  Issa had asked everyone not to boo but to “applaud at something you agree with.”  So, except for a couple of moments, there were no boos. One was when the ACLU was mentioned, but Issa told people that even they do some good things.

This was in stark contrast to what had occurred at the Susan Davis Town Hall meeting, where right from the get-go, there was constant shouting, boos and generally disruptive behavior generated towards Davis and anything positive said about Obama or health care reform.  There had even been the chant “Recall Davis!” that day.  Nothing like that this eve.

A hot time in Vista!

So, I finally got it.  The right-wing extremists will go to a Democratic town hall meeting and disrupt it. As they did on August 29th in Spring Valley. But when one of their own holds a Town Hall meeting, everyone is polite and friendly.   This was the fare for the evening.

Looking back and being able to now experience both town hall meetings, it is clear that the right had a mandate to disrupt, to block, to not allow any discussion about health care reform at the Susan Davis Democratic Party-sponsored event.  And that’s what they did that hot, sizzling day in Spring Valley.  They disrupted it. Susan Davis was shouted down – numerous times. It was embarrassing as she did not know how to handle it.  Neither did her emcee – George Mitrovich.

But no one disrupted last night’s event.  Left-wingers and progressives and Democratic Party activists did not attend with the sole purpose of getting in Issa’s face or shouting him down. Nothing of the kind. We’re too civil, too polite – we actually want discussion and discourse.  Not to mention that the Democrats had not mobilized for this thing as they had for Spring Valley.

One of the most dramatic moments of the two hours of sweltering heat, – clearly crafted and staged for this audience – was when Issa, holding the supposed copy of the health care reform bill – 1100 pages, and says, “This should not be thrown away,” pausing for effect, “but we should recycle it!” at which point he tossed it into a blue recycle canister already on stage. There was lots of yelling and applause in agreement.

The questions from the floor were mostly soft-ball ones.  The very first questioner, a large, middle-aged man in an orange shirt named Roger, starts out by saying, “I am one of those domestic terrorists.” More applause.  There were some boos – and this is where Issa asked everyone not to boo but to clap at something you agreed with.  I thought to myself ‘what if there was never anything said that you agree with?’

I could recount several things that questioners asked – like the young student who asked what with 42 million people in America without health insurance, how could they be covered without a public option – there was some applause from the liberal side here. Incredibly, Issa’s response was to call into doubt that number – the 42 million.  “Well,” he glibly stated, “one of the problems is to document that 42 million.” More applause than when the question was asked.

An older woman, dressed nicely even in this weather, declared, “I don’t accept the premise that government should be involved in health care.” Lots of applause.

This is where both Issa and Rick Roberts mentioned how “civil” everyone was being.  Meanwhile, Issa kept pushing tort reform – even saying at one point that “tort reform is the most important issue.” More important than health care itself.  No mention of all the profits that health care insurance companies make, or how pharmaceutical companies rake it in.  This is interesting, as pharmaceuticals and health product corporations gave Darrell Issa $65,250 in 2008.  See here for yourself.

One of the last questioners, a young woman, called out: “Who controls Congress? – the lobbyists!” Much applause.  Issa  had to be careful there, as lobbyists handed him over $16,000 last year.

The biggest eruption of applause and yells and stomping of the feet occurred, when an older woman took the mike, and asked “Where is the money coming for all those ‘czars’?”  The place went wild.  Czars? I thought. WTF??  It seemed as if 90% of the people in the hall were yelling.   While the crowd was going crazy on this issue, I could see Roberts up on the stage with a big, knowing grin on his mug. Later, as we exited, I asked one of Issa’s staffers – a young, tall blond with braids, whether “czars” was a Rick Roberts’ issue. Oh yes, she said, it’s a big thing for Roberts.

As the hot, dripping evening came to a close, I found myself being intimidated in how I responded to anything. If I clapped for something positive or liberal, I would be nearly alone in the section of bleachers we found ourselves in.  I started clapping for anything that sounded okay.  “Congress is corrupted by all the money!” Clap, clap, clap.  “We need different options than a government-controlled one.” Clap, clap, clap. “We need some kind of reform, just not this bill.” Clap, clap, clap. God is great, clap, clap, clap. The sun rises everyday, clap, clap, clap.

When the event was over, I hurried down the steps and found Roger, the “domestic terrorist.” I introduced myself and shook hands.  He acted as if we were old friends.  I asked him about his statement – and oh, he said, he just said that because Nancy Pelosi had called town hall disrupters “astroturf” and domestic terrorists (she did?), so he was simply using her own language. Plus, he said, there was that report about how returning vets were domestic terrorists, and he was a vet. It all made sense. I don’t think he was a gun-totin’ extremist, just a pissed-off conservative veteran.

As we filed out of the hall, a middle-aged guy came up to me smiling, and says, “I noticed you were clapping by yourself there a couple of times. You must be a Democrat.” He was kind of joking around. “I told my wife, ‘hey they even let in a Democrat.'”  We chuckled both knowing that the evening was way one-sided.

To be noticed like that was a bit unsettling.  Doug, who had worn a Cubano Rum cap, even had someone – in a nice way – point out that it was from “Cuba” – he corrected them by saying the caps are actually made in Mexico and have been for decades.  But the fact that even his cap drew attention because it had the word “Cuban” on it was note worthy.

As we were driving out of the parking lot, I felt disgusted.  Here, Rick Roberts promotes an atmosphere of hate and invites a climate of right-wing disruption. He uses his radio to do this. Did he call upon his listeners to attend Susan Davis’ thing and shout her down?  He held an “after town hall rally” after the Susan Davis town hall, “to express your views on Health Care Reform and the March to Socialism.” This was on a flier passed out at the Susan Davis scene.  But here, with Darrel Issa, Roberts was the frickin emcee!

So, Roberts gets his people to the Democrat event and they disrupt it.  Then he calls his flock to Issa where they’re all nicey-nice and polite and civil. Isn’t this great? The right knows how to have a town hall meeting. But those Democrats – they lie anyhow, so why not shout them down?

In fact, Darrell likes these town hall meetings so much, he’s having another one tonight in Oceanside.  And at the opposite side of our huge County, there’s a Democratic Party Congressional send off in downtown San Diego at City Park, located on Broadway between 3rd and 4th street ay at 5pm today. Will it too be disrupted by those right-wingers?  They’re playing with a different rule book than the rest of us.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Dave Gilbert September 3, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Thanks Frank, excellent reporting!

Issa and Roberts together in the same place for that amount of time is way more than I could ever stomach!

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 3, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Our friend Nunya from the blog politickybitch also attended last night’s event. Here’s her excellent accounting – go here: http://politickybitch.blogspot.com/

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avatar 619-1502 September 3, 2009 at 1:39 pm

LMAO @ “sheeple”, that’s classic Nunya! If they’d only just turn off the radio, TV or Internet for a week instead of hanging on every word they’d be so much happier and well balanced.

There’s got to be a special place in hell for Issa and Roberts…sadly the “sheeple” are already living in it.

Just say “know” to the douche network!

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avatar Ron James September 3, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Most interesting story Frank. Well done. Perhaps we could use a version in the op ed section of our next edition. Let me know.

Ron

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avatar Nancy September 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I agree, the sheep in that gym would clap for anything! Issa says he agrees that everyone should have healthcare and by God someone (such as the improvished state of CA) should do something about it – and everyone claps for him! My husband and I were both interviewed and photographed as the “sole representatives” of the left by an abc affiliate, but seem to not have made the cut. Sign me the invisible woman….

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avatar Larry OB September 3, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Undocumented? We ain’t got no documents. We don’t need no stinkin’ documents…(insert pistol sound here.)

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avatar Danny Morales September 3, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Went to the downtown rally with about 100 others of like mind. Only 1 (one)individual with a picket sign and a megaphone, moving the message that the church of OBama has its foundation in Black Liberation theology…OBama is a racist…OBama is the “Evil Joker”…but nothing about health care. And definitely no rousted right wing masses taring to intimidate anyone. So where are we at now and what do we have to do to get where we want to go?

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 3, 2009 at 9:50 pm

Dave, thanks. It was hot.
Nancy “invisible woman”- you guys, us, and our friend and fellow blogger nunya were there, but we were all isolated / separated from each other. Thanks for checking in.
Larry, thanks for keeping it real.
Danny, thanks for the report. Did you see our associate Anna there? We’re waiting for her report.

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avatar lane tobias September 3, 2009 at 10:05 pm

thank you frank for such intimate coverage.

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avatar Tom September 3, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Issa is wearing a Blue shirt to indicate (closet) support for the public option! Great coverage!

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avatar annagrace September 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Frank- great piece of reporting and thanks for being there. So I guess it’s true- the right wing plan was to shout down, if not shut down, Democratic town hall meetings and to shut up, with appropriate clapping of course, during the Republican’s.

I was at the rally this evening and I thought the head count was closer to 200. As Danny Morales reported, just a couple of wingnutz who were surrounded by a vocal pro-reform contingent.

The rally was organized through the President’s Organizing for America Project. Petitions with thousands of signatures in support of health care reform were given to a representative of Susan Davis and sent to Dianne Feinstein.

I asked people if they thought the next leg of the battle- the Senate- requires a different strategy from the left. The House battle was played out in the Heartland, and we all know how that went. A lot of people I spoke to are looking to the President to set a tone and clear agenda in his speech next week. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.

If you’re interested in what the kickass left is up to, check out firedoglake and Jane Hamsher. http://firedoglake.com/author/1/ They’ve raised close to $250,000 to lobby the Democrats we elected to listen to us, their constituents and follow through with a public option. They have taken the position that we can’t control what comes out of Limbaugh’s mouth, or who shows up at a Town Hall meeting, beyond our own organizing. But the Democrats in Congress… we elected them and they should be our focus since they are in the majority.

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 7, 2009 at 5:38 pm

So annagrace – we’re not kickass enuff fer ya, eh? c’mon, then, let’s git it ta gather.

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avatar nunya September 4, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Thanks Frank, I was busy last night and today so I didn’t catch the shout out earlier. I missed the wear blue thing too or I surely would have.

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avatar Julie Anders September 4, 2009 at 10:25 pm

By the time I heard about this town hall meeting I had given up on Congressman Issa having a town hall meeting. I called his office (for the second time) on Monday to ask if Congressman Issa was going to have a town hall meeting and the aide who answered the phone said she did not know what his plans were. I politely told her I felt that was pretty irresponsible of him. So, I was surprised to get an email Tuesday announcing the town hall meeting Wednesday. I suspect that he was flooded with calls from his constituents demanding he have a town hall meeting. I did attend the town hall meeting and was not surprised at the strong right wing showing. I also was not surprised by what Issa had to say. He’s a typical republican. The crowd really loved him. When he walked back into the gym from speaking with the crowd outside he got a huge round of applause. The man sitting next to me was clapping so loud I thought I would go deaf. Congressman Issa seemed pleased as punch by the boisterous reception. A lot of what Issa had to say were half truths and some untruths. I was surprised to hear him give the ACLU faint praise though. All and all it was a fairly orderly crowd. I was glad when it ended however as I had a hard time stiffling my disgust at some of the questions people asked; such as the question one lady asked Issa regarding if he would vote to allow the government to pour through her financial records. I’v heard nothing about that being part of the proposed bill. From a lot of the questions I heard I had the impression that people were accepting a lot of the misinformation that is out there. I am very frustrated with the Democrats. They seem pretty incompetent when it comes to getting their message out. And the Republicans are experts at it.

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avatar Larry OB September 5, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Frank,
was that Issa’s only reference to undocumented patients? Some folks are being careful to point out that undocumented aliens aren’t inluded in the bill. They don’t want that to be a deal killer. Personally I don’t condone illegal immigration, but I do think that the illegals SHOULD get free health care. Visiting tourists should also be covered. We could probably do a lot of things cheaper at a local clinic than we can at an emergency room, and the ER is where the illegals will continue to go if we don’t include them in our health care reforms.

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avatar Zoeysmom92081 -Vista September 6, 2009 at 9:16 pm

I was there Wednesday night as well with 4 friends. I figure if nothing else, we kept 5 of them from getting in. Issa never answered the questions. There were people all ready to get ugly, they just never got the opportunity. Being in the minority we got some attention from th media, one of my friends got on NBC. Issa tried to be the centrist and is posting on the Huffington Post from a centrist position which he isnt’t. He’s a hardcore Conservative from his voting records. Me thinks he’s testing the waters to run against Boxer in a Blue state. Don’t trust him. Watch him. I posted his scare tactics phone message left for us constituents – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQbQTVMLDsM

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avatar annagrace September 6, 2009 at 10:17 pm

way to go Zoeysmom!

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Zoeysmom – you all must have been on the north side of the gym – I remember a bunch of applause on progressive things that came up from that section.

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avatar Zoeysmom92081 September 7, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Hey Frank,

No, actually we were sitting on chairs towards the back, near the media platform.

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avatar annagrace September 7, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Ready, Frank.

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avatar annagrace September 14, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Anyone aware that the sheriff’s dept had “sonic cannons” at the ready at this town hall meeting as well as Susan Davis’ in Spring Valley? It’s reported here in Firedoglake:

http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/8133

Any first hand reports?

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 14, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Yeah, thanks Anna for the heads-up. See our most recent post from East County Magazine.

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avatar annagrace September 16, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Behold Darrell Issa- the anti-czar! Looks like there’s an anti-czar bill moving through the Senate. When questioned about whether he (Issa) had raised concerns about the Bush czars, all he could say was “no” they didn’t object when Bush had 13 czars over 8 years. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/16/ant-czar-bill-gets-100-co_n_288859.html

Czars! Communists! Socialists! Brown Shirts! Nazis! (And the Black Guy) All in the White House at this moment! See what happens when Dick Cheney isn’t there to keep America safe?

How about a big shout-out to Issa: You Lie!!

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avatar mr fresh September 16, 2009 at 9:17 pm
avatar annagrace September 16, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Thanx mr fresh. Encouraging to see some push back….

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avatar Mr. Artless September 20, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Hello. I was the young student you mentioned earlier who asked about the 42,000,000.

I never heard back about the interview even though not 1 but 2 of his staff came up to me and gave me business cards after! I emailed them a resume and everything.

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avatar Zoeysmom92081 September 22, 2009 at 1:34 am

Hang in there Mr. Artless and thanks for asking that question. Have you sent resumes to Senators Boxer and Feinstein. We’ll all vouch for you here I’m sure. All of Issa’s interns looked like fembots. You’re better than that.

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avatar Zoeysmom92081 September 22, 2009 at 1:31 am

Here is a link to Issa’s email about the event with media coverage he’s posted on YouTube. Please leave comments on the YouTube pages.

http://issa.congressnewsletter.net/mail/util.cfm?gpiv=2100046102.19133.75&gen=1

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