A week ago, Lloyd Doggett, a Democratic congressman from Austin, Tex., became an instant YouTube sensation when his “office hours” at a South Austin grocery store turned into a mob scene. It was one of the first indicators of what a lot of his colleagues would see in their own districts over this very rocky August recess. But Doggett insisted in this email that he was not going to be deterred:
In my fifteen years of hosting ‘Office Hours’ at neighborhood groceries and similar locations to talk with my constituents in Central Texas about the issues they care about, at times, I have engaged in vigorous discussion and even a heated argument or two. But I have never had neighbors cutoff by a Republican-organized mob as happened last Saturday. Not content with an hour of taunt-filled discussion with me, they insisted on denying others the right to speak. We cannot allow this “just say no” crowd, offering so little meaningful for the conversation, to stop real, meaningful health care reform. Americans who are suffering under the current insurance industry must make their voices heard.
Sure enough, Doggett was back at it today. Hilary Hylton, our colleague in Austin, was there, and here’s what she had to report:
Consensus was reached in Austin, Texas this Saturday morning as protestors pro and con in the great churning healthcare debate gathered to confront/support Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett. This was his latest hometown appearance hot on the heels (and it was hot as central Texas racked up another 100 degree plus day) of his raucous reception at a local grocery store last week that went viral on YouTube and was featured in a what-to-expect-when-you-go-back-home briefing for his fellow Democrats in Congress. The crowd of about 300, maybe two-thirds supporting the Democratic healthcare bill and a third in opposition, gathered at a strip shopping center anticipating Doggett’s appearance at an open house for CommunityCare, a federally qualified health center.
Doggett was joined inside the air-conditioned clinic by Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn, also a supporter of federal funding for community health centers. Both men had been invited to the open house months ago before the recent flare ups and, in a manner reminiscent of their judicial demeanor years ago as benchmates on the Texas Supreme Court, both agreed sotto voce that there was a need for civil discourse and there are no easy solutions and this is not a day for partisanship etc etc etc. Cornyn then made it out to his car to a cacophony of chants, pro and con, but all seeming to share one word “NO fill in the blank.” Doggett then took to a podium outside to his own chorus of cheers and jeers and took questions from the crowd.
Meanwhile, small knots of protestors held their own one-on-one discussions, spirited, heated, but generally civil interactions. Kim Lukart, a 42-year-old mother of three and self-styled “conservative” attracted some attention with her sign: “My Dollar My Doctor My Choice No Government Health Nazis!” The petite Lukart was accompanied by her 14-year-old sign-wielding daughter Shelby — her husband had taken the six-year-old to a baseball game and her older son was doing a chemistry experiment with his granddad. Protest politics was a job for the women in the Lukart family and they had attended Doggett’s infamous grocery store meeting. But Lukart, a stay-at-home mom, insisted to Susan Raybuck, 55, a schoolteacher, supporter of single payer system and a staunch Democrat, that she was not calling Democrats Nazis, but the bureaucrats who would run the system. And as they exchanged views on just what was in the massive healthcare bill, they agreed to agree on one thing — it was so big that it was proving difficult to wade through it online.
So, consensus in Austin: summer too hot, bill too big, discourse too loud, oh, one more — the best way to cool off in a black-topped Texas parking lot with no shade except for your neighbor’s sign (the bigger the better, message immaterial) is a “nieve de fresas” a Mexican snow cone with fresh strawberries and cream. If only Marie Antoinette had said “Let them eat nieves!” history might have taken a different turn.