If you go
Who: U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Florida
What: Health-care reform town-hall meeting
When: Friday, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Where: Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers.
More information: http://mack.house.gov, (239) 252-6225 or (202) 225-2536.
Four questions from the Tweet Town Hall
Health care questions answered by panel
FGCU health care forum
Editor's note: Come back to naplesnews.com tonight for a live video feed from the health care meeting from our news partners at NBC-2.
FORT MYERS — If recent history is any indication, emotions and tempers will be plentiful inside Harborside Convention Center on Friday night as U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Florida, hosts a town hall meeting on health-care reform.
Outside, it’s anybody’s guess how many demonstrators will hold court, whether in support of or against efforts to revamp health care to address the 47 million Americans who lack coverage and out-of-control costs for those who have it.
Political playbooks will remember August as the time of unruly health-care town hall meetings between the angry public and members of Congress on recess, even though final legislation isn’t expected until the end of the year.
The public forum nevertheless hasn’t lost luster among Republican and Democratic leaders and the expectation is the crowd will be large for Mack’s event, which includes five panelists with health-care and business backgrounds.
As of Thursday afternoon, 1,500 people have registered to attend, said Stephanie DuBois, Mack’s spokeswoman.
Despite angry outbursts from audience members and scuffles at several town hall meetings around the state and elsewhere, the forums remain a good avenue for the public to express their views and ask questions, according to Republican party officials in Southwest Florida and at the state level. None said the town hall meetings have lost ability to be constructive or educational for elected leaders.
Local Democratic leaders agree the forums allow members of the public to speak their minds but that’s where some of the value stops. At least one local Democratic leader said Mack would not be holding the town hall meeting if he wasn’t pressured to do so.
“This is a stage for him,” said Steven Hemping, chairman of the Collier County Democratic Party. “He’s going to say, “I held a town hall. I did my thing.’ I think he kind of got forced into it. I think if he could have gotten away not doing it, he would not have done it.”
Will Prather, Democratic Party chairman in Lee County, applauds Mack for having the forum.
“I believe very strongly in the public being able to express their opinion,” he said, adding that if elected officials choose not to listen to their constituents, that’s when they don’t get reelected.
“Now, do I believe Connie Mack is in tune with Southwest Florida? Absolutely not. He barely spends time here,” Prather said. “I believe he is out of touch on this issue.”
Prather said Mack “is pretty committed to his beliefs” and he will have a lot of supporters at the event given Southwest Florida’s conservative base. The Democratic parties also will have a showing from Collier and Lee counties.
“Whether or not he responds, that is conjecture,” Prather said.
Florida’s Republican Party chairman, Jim Greer, believes the town hall meetings are important despite outbursts and disruptive demonstrators at some events, said Florida party spokeswoman Katie Betta.
“It is important for elected officials to be out listening to what their constituents have to say,” she said. “(Greer) considers it unfortunate some people have taken it to extremes. In general, he believes they are a constructive way for elected officials to hear the concerns of people out in the field.”
Lee County Republican Chairman Gary Lee said town hall meetings are absolutely constructive.
“As a former member of Congress, they are a very important type of function,” he said, adding that demonstrators have their rights and he only asks they do their thing within the “parameters of sanity.”
“Just do it in a very legitimate way,” he said. “If you have a difference of opinion, express it.”
During a breakfast meeting last week in Fort Myers with the Chamber of Southwest Florida, Mack said Democratic proposals for reform would bankrupt the United States and allow bureaucrats to be in charge of people’s health care instead of doctors. He advocates free-market solutions to improve the health-care system as opposed to mandates and higher taxes that would hamper small businesses and economic growth.
Hemping, the Collier Democratic party chair, said Mack felt obligated to hold the town hall meeting because of wide-ranging opinions in his district. At the same time, the bigger influence on what will transpire regarding health-care reform will come from the insurance lobby.
“I’m afraid the public gets some input but the input by others is much stronger when UnitedHealthcare has put up $230 million to fight it,” Hemping said. “I hope (Mack) learns something (from the public at the forum). I don’t know if he will. He is kind of set in his ways.”
Collier Republican Party chairwoman, Carla Dean, said the town hall meetings are good for the public to voice their views except when events get out of hand like they did in early August in Tampa’s Ybor City. Chanting opponents of the Democratic health plan were prevented from getting inside the meeting room when seating capacity was reached, resulting in pushing and shoving.
“I just hope (Mack’s event) doesn’t turn into something like in Tampa,” she said. “I’m going to say things will go well. I will say people will be heard as they should be.”
Dr. Allen Weiss, president and chief executive officer of the NCH Healthcare System in Collier County, participated in a Naples town hall meeting on health-care reform in early September and is on the panel for the Fort Myers town hall. He said he believes the disruptive behavior that’s been taking place is a result of the growth of Facebook and Twitter for communication and the loss of face-to-face contact for presenting views.
“It is fine to disagree but it is not fine to be disagreeable,” Weiss said, adding that the town hall meetings remain a good way for elected leaders with a large geographic base to have contact with a sampling of their constituency.
Along with wise, scheduled panelists are: Robert Sanchez, director of public policy at the James Madison Institute; Edward Morton, former chief executive officer of NCH Healthcare System and managing partner of an investment firm in Naples; Al Hoffman, president of Hoffman Partners and founder of WCI Communities, Inc.; and Jim Nathan, president and chief executive officer of Lee Memorial Health System in Lee County.