THE long-anticipated town hall meeting of Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Savannah, lived up to the hype in terms of crowd intensity and size of the audience, which packed the Armstrong Center auditorium to capacity well before the scheduled 3 p.m. start time this Tuesday afternoon.
The overflow crowd in the lobby of the Armstrong Center of those either too late to secure a space inside or preferring to be able to hold larger signs – prohibited in the meeting – loudly chanted “This is what democracy looks like.”
But answers to most actual questions were short in coming, both due to Carter’s largely rote and platitude-heavy responses and the crowd’s own unruliness and frequent insistence on yelling over not only Carter, but other questioners in the crowd as they attempted to be heard on the frequently malfunctioning mic and PA system.
“Civil discourse does not include shouting over other questioners,” scolded the moderator at one point.
The intensity level amped up immediately as the meeting began, during a brief Powerpoint introduction from Carter which included a slide titled “Broken Promises of Obamacare.”
The crowd instantly booed the reference, yelling “Affordable Care Act” and “ACA.”
Indeed, almost the only applause Carter received all afternoon was when he acknowledged the crowd by saying, “All right, the Affordable Care Act,” before continuing his critique of the program.
Throughout the town hall, Carter generally avoided specific responses. However, on the ACA issue he guaranteed that any Republican effort to replace the program would keep the provisions of no exclusion for preexisting conditions, and the provision for those up to age 26 to remain on their parent’s plan.
“Folks, there are five states in the country that have only one health plan for all” offered by ACA, Carter said. “That’s not choice.”
Voices in the crowd immediately responded, “That’s your fault.”
“No! NO single payer! No single payer,” Carter stated flatly to an immediate chorus of booing.
Carter was not without supporters there, though they were heavily outnumbered. Most focused on quieting the crowd.
“If you’ve got something to say, use a few manners,” shouted one woman to other audience members. “Raise your hand. Nobody can accomplish anything like this.”
“Good lord, this is like anarchy,” said another under his breath. “Bunch of morons.”
As Carter touted the Republican Congress’s plans to overhaul and replace ACA, he briefly mentioned Tom Price, the former Georgia congressman tapped by Trump to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The mere utterance of Price’s name was enough to make the chamber erupt in sustained booing, forcing Carter to stop talking.
At many points, Carter vaguely referred to “bureaucrats” and blamed them for much of the nation’s ills, an approach which seemed to provoke a particularly angry response which got angrier the more times he said it.
The unruly atmosphere of the event was made even more unmanageable when chanting from the lobby from the overflow crowd began bleeding into the auditorium.
The Trump/Putin question came up early, with one questioner –anachronistically referring to Russia as “a communist country” – asking the congressman if he would vote for an independent investigation into allegations of election interference.
“All of us are concerned about Russia,” said Carter. “Look, both the House and Senate Intelligence committees have said they’re going to look into what’s going on with Russia. I trust that they’re going to do that. Our job as the legislative branch is to look at the executive branch and make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and vice versa.”
Carter’s pro-life platform came under the spotlight in a question about campus rape.
“Are you concerned about the passage of HR 586, limiting women’s access to contraception, when they might be raped any day of the week?” a woman asked.
“You bring up a problem, and it is a real problem. Thank you for bringing it up. It is a problem that needs to be dealt with. We’re familiar with it. Everyone’s familiar with it. If you have a child in college this is something you’re concerned with,” rambled Carter vaguely.
Until he abruptly shifted gears.
“You know I’m pro-life, and I’m not going to vote for any bill that endorses abortion,” Carter suddenly said, to sustained booing -- along with clapping and cheering from supporters.
Another questioner asked Carter if he personally would “volunteer at a hospital or Rape Crisis Center to see what is happening with people in need of medical care.”
Carter then looked to a staffer in the wings, and said to them, “Let’s make it happen, OK?”
A questioner asked what Carter thought about Trump’s apparent plans to abolish or drastically curtail the Environmental Protection Agency. The congressman said “I don’t think it needs to be abolished but it needs to be reined in,” to loud boos.
“Folks, I’m tellin’ ya, bureaucrats are out of control,” he implored, returning to his go-to theme.
“I like regulation,” responded one crowd member. “Regulation keeps us safe from corporate fraud,” she said to applause.
A man wearing a Trump hat and Trump T-shirt stood to ask a question, saying, “Thanks for putting up with all this. I’m going to ask a question that’s going to bore everyone here, about this district.”
He then inquired about the status of an I-95 off-ramp, with Carter visibly relieved to have an easy question.
“You’re not supposed to be wearing that T-shirt in here,” yelled a crowd member at the Trump supporter from across the room. She was sitting near several people wearing matching bright pink Planned Parenthood shirts.
A questioner who said he worked several years for the Homeland Security Department said Carter’s support of a wall on the Mexican border was an insult to the “thin blue line.”
Carter responded that he never said he totally supported an actual wall across the entire Mexican border, just saying “we need to control our borders.”
One of the most vociferous reponses to Carter came when a woman asked about new and very controversial Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“First of all, as you know Cabinet appointments are confirmed by the Senate, not the House,” said Carter, before making this boo-prompting appeal:
“You know, we’ve got to give this lady a chance.”
But perhaps the most intriguing interaction came when Father Michael Kavanaugh, pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, addressed the congressman.
“First, I have to say I’ve also studied the Scriptures a great deal,” Fr. Kavanaugh said to audience laughter. It was a pointed jab at Carter’s repeated religious references, which at one point included urging teaching the Bible in public schools.
“And there’s no part of the Scriptures that says we must support a government we have serious disagreements with,” Kavanaugh said.
The crowd stood to their feet, cheering and clapping for a prolonged period. Carter simply looked on from the stage, slowly shaking his head in amazement.
As the crowd filed out, they met a crowd almost as large chanting and waving signs, hoping to intercept a departing Carter in the lobby for further confrontation.
However, an Armstrong State Police officer, blowing his whistle from the mezzanine, said Carter "had other appointments" and had already left the building.
"Buddy's a coward, Buddy's a coward," chanted the crowd.