Several hundred people turned out for a town hall rally in Vista on Feb. 21, chanting and cheering in support of Obamacare.
The invited guest, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, — who represents the cities of Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe, Carlsbad, Vista, Oceanside and Camp Pendleton — did not attend the gathering, held at the Jim Porter Recreation Center at Brengle Terrace Park, about 5 miles from Issa’s district headquarters.
His absence wasn’t surprising — earlier in the day he’d met with more than 225 people, including about 75 Trump supporters and 150 protesters who were camped outside of his office, taking questions on a range of topics, from immigration to the travel ban to healthcare. His spokesman said last week that Issa had other commitments that made it unlikely he would attend the town hall.
Nationwide, there has been increasing pressure on members of Congress to hold such meetings, primarily from people concerned about President Donald Trump’s policies.
The group that organized Tuesday’s event has held weekly protests at Issa’s office and raised $6,000 for a full-page newspaper ad urging him to attend the town hall, which focused on the Affordable Care Act. Labor unions and healthcare advocacy groups funded the event.
Denny Cope, an Encinitas woman who is raising her grandchildren and attended the town hall, said she lived for 24 years without health insurance until she was able to receive Medicare at age 65. She doesn’t want to see the same fate for other people.
"[Issa’s] vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act will leave about 5 million people in California uncovered,” Cope said. “I don’t want anyone to have to suffer through years without healthcare like I did. No one should have to decide to buy groceries for their children or grandchildren or re-order required over-priced prescription drugs.”
She said her main concern is what happens to Medicare and Medi-Cal.
Fallbrook resident Holly Nelson, a licensed clinical social worker, said she was disappointed that Issa did not show — but still, she left heartened after hearing from other like-minded people.
“As a constituent, I want my voice heard,” Nelson said. “But (it was good) to see that I wasn’t alone in my feelings, that other people want to fight for this important issue.”
Among the roughly 350 people inside the rec center was 27-year-old paramedic Kyle Thayer from Carlsbad.
“I know what it’s like for people without access to healthcare,” he said. “They end up in the back of my ambulance, on the way to the ER (emergency room).”
Outside the building, perhaps 500 to 1,000 others crowded together, chanting and waving signs in support of the Affordable Care Act.
“It wasn’t important to hear speeches,” 56-year-old Vista resident Tom Averell said, leaning on his cane outside the rec center. “It’s important to be a part of a crowd that is positive.”
Vista resident Samantha Bell, 23, came alone, smiling as she walked through the crowd, impressed by the turnout.
“Congress is not representing us, so we’ve got to speak louder,” Bell said.
Earlier Tuesday, Issa’s office released a draft of the bill the congressman is proposing as a replacement to the Affordable Care Act. Highlights of his proposal include some of the ACA’s most popular elements, including guaranteed coverage for preexisting conditions and coverage for dependents under 26 years old.
In the Nov. 8 election, the nine-term congressman only narrowly defeated challenger Doug Applegate, winning re-election by just .6 points — roughly 1,600 votes. The National Republican Congressional Committee has already promised extra help in the 2018 campaign to help him retain his seat.
Applegate, who has announced his intention to run again, attended the town hall.
As the event ended, organizers asked people to attend a peaceful candlelight vigil outside Issa’s Vista home Feb. 23.
Figueroa is a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune.Union-Tribune Community Press reporter Brittany Woolsey contributed to this report.