AFTON, Iowa Peggy Erskine used a half-day of her vacation time to give Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) a piece of her mind on health care reform; and she wasnt alone.
Erskine, a 61-year-old factory worker, was one of about 2,000 people who showed up Wednesday at one of four of Grassleys town-hall meetings across central Iowa farm country. And like many of her counterparts, Erskine had a message for the Iowa Republican, a key health care negotiator: Stop President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats from enacting their health care plans.
When 9/11 happened, I was very terrified. But I honestly am more terrified now. Then, I thought my government was going to protect me, and now Im afraid of my government. We have the car industry [being] taken over, the banks were taken over, and now I feel our health care. And I think we have were leaning toward socialism, and that scares me to death, Erskine told Grassley to enthusiastic applause from most of the 300 who packed the Methodist church in Afton, after the large turnout forced the event to move from the towns small City Hall.
The true root of the problem in health care reform is distrust of the United States Congress, 66-year-old Mike Brentnall, the administrator of a medical clinic, added in an interview following the event. Afton is located in Union County, which is dominated by conservative Democrats.
In the sweltering summer heat, Iowans turned out to talk health care with Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, who has worked for several months to fashion a bipartisan reform bill with the panels chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). In four Iowa farming communities Adel, Afton, Panora and Winterset Grassley met overflow crowds that would make any presidential caucus candidate jealous.
The town-hall-goers, composed largely of middle-aged and elderly conservatives, were mostly civil but far from shy. Many came armed with prewritten questions and homemade signs, and most of them had plenty to say. No one left early, despite the 90-degree heat that greeted attendees at the two outdoor events in Winterset and Adel, and the sauna-like conditions at the indoor gatherings in Afton and Panora.
I believe nationalized medicine is actually another tax, said one of the nearly 1,000 who participated in Grassleys town-hall meeting in the Dallas County community of Adel. That event was moved from the public library to a park to accommodate the large crowd. Dallas County is among the fast-growing Republican regions in the state and among the top 10 counties for GOP growth in the nation.
Balance the Budget; No-Bama Care, read a sign held by one person in Panora, where almost 500 filled the town community center. Panora is located in Guthrie County, a Republican-leaning area with a solid share of conservative Democrats.
Grassleys back-to-back town halls didnt lack drama, but none featured the violent outbursts or physical altercations that some Members have experienced this recess. The town halls have served as ground zero for a frustrated electorate, and questions have arisen over whether and to what degree the forums participants are organized by Obama opponents.
For Grassley, who is up for re-election in 2010, the applause lines were consistent throughout all four of Wednesdays events.