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Daily Breeze: Maxine Waters health-care town hall draws cheers

January 28, 2010
In The News

By Josh Grossberg Staff Writer

In a departure from what has become a familiar scene in the national debate over health care, nobody clashed at a town hall meeting hosted by South Bay Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters on Saturday.

Instead, the more than 400 people who attended the event at Los Angeles Southwest College near Inglewood applauded, chanted and gave standing ovations during Waters' presentation, which lasted far longer than the two hours it was scheduled for.

"The health care system is broken and it's got to be fixed," she said. "It's not simply about the 47 million people who are uninsured, it's about people who can afford health care, who are paying premiums every month but finding that their premium costs keep increasing. God forbid you have a catastrophe."

In good spirits, Waters said she had a theory why the tense atmosphere of other meetings was absent from Saturday's event.

"I sent them a message," she said to cheers. "Don't try that with Maxine Waters."

Other politicians have faced angry questioners when they hosted similar events in recent weeks. And protesters have used the events as opportunities to criticize not only health care reform, but other policies of President Barack Obama.

But Waters' audience was on her side. They carried signs saying "Who would Jesus not insure?" and "Stand together." Many of the cars in the parking lot had Obama bumper stickers.

The only time they booed was when Waters mentioned Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, who helped popularize the idea that "death panels" would decide end-of-life issues for seniors.

"Why would any member of Congress, especially those of us who are grandmothers, want to pull the plug on Grandma?" she said.

Hawthorne resident Yvette Johnson-Reagan said she had insurance, but wanted to make sure the less fortunate could afford it as well.

"I'm not doing this for me," she said. "I'm doing it for the people who were at the Forum."

She was referring to a health clinic at the Forum earlier this month that drew thousands of people seeking free medical attention.

Westchester residents Lee and Allen Klein said they wanted to make sure adequate health care was available to everybody. Allen Klein owns a travel company with four employees, but cannot afford to provide them with insurance.

"You have to have a public option," he said. "There should be no relation between work and health care."

Waters drew applause when she painted a picture of greedy insurance companies milking the public dry.

"This is about getting a handle on the rising costs," she said. "It's about creating competition. It's about being able to ensure that we don't let the same people that's been ripping us off continue to rip us off.

Los Angeles resident Sybil Tullos said she has had trouble getting insurance because she has pre-existing conditions, a situation that Waters promised to fix.

"If I lose my job, I'm screwed," she said. "I'm sick of seeing people demonize President Obama."

Many in the crowd were expecting a more agitated group of opponents. Instead, just one man stood outside the hall. Wearing a Halloween mask and a hood, he silently held a handmade sign over his head: "Disease yes. Medical reform no. Satan."

When asked if he was expecting any support, the man laughed.

"No, I'm all alone," he said.