Captive audience for Obama
Residents will show genuine concern when he visits, Republicans say
By LE ROY STANDISH
Flags and protest signs may well be equally abundant when President Barack Obama visits Grand Junction on Saturday.
As Obama returns to a Republican-dominated area, amid political turmoil over health care reform — his top domestic priority — what kind of a reception might the president expect?
“There’s a lot of folks who would like to give it to him, as they say, but it is really a genuine concern about what is going on and I think that is true across the county,” said Duncan McArthur, first vice chairman of the Mesa County Republicans.
As a U.S. citizen, McArthur said, he is proud to welcome a president to Grand Junction, even though he disagrees with a majority of Obama’s policies.
He said the local Republican party has no plans to organize protests.
“The Republican Party of Mesa County is not putting out a call to action,” he said. “What you see is not orchestrated. These people are genuinely concerned.”
The White House has said Obama will preside over town hall meeting Saturday, but the topic or topics haven’t been decided.
As Democrats try to push health care reform through Congress, they have been greeted at their own town hall meetings by boisterous protests, particularly about government-run health care.
More than 400 people gathered Saturday at a rally organized by conservative groups at the old Mesa County Courthouse against the Democrats’ health care reform proposals.
Red-faced protesters were not so much of a concern during the previous visit to Grand Junction by a president, said Kathy Hall, a former Mesa County commissioner who was the local White House representative when President George H.W. Bush came to Grand Junction in 1991.
“Maybe the fear (of Obama’s policies) has created this because that was not a concern when President Bush came,” Hall said of the politically charged atmosphere around the country.
“Maybe the administration has made people feel like they can’t be calm and accepting, I don’t know.”
Hall said she had 400 invitations that she tried to pass out equally to Democrats and Republicans.
“I never worked so hard in all my life as in that week prior to the president arriving,” Hall said.
Hall said she observed but did not participate in the protest Saturday at the old Mesa County Courthouse. Judging by what she saw there, Hall said people, irrespective of political party affiliation, are concerned.
“It is just real Americans. It is not any particular party, no particular group, it is just real people concerned about the future of their jobs, the future of their health care and where their country is going,” she said. “They are not showing up for any other reason than they are informed and that is why they are concerned.”
At the same White House press briefing in which it was announced the President will be coming to Grand Junction to possibly host a town hall meeting here, the tensions at similar style meetings across the country was touched upon.
“I will tell you this,” Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary told media on Friday, according to a White House transcript, “The President believes, and has always believed, that town hall meetings are a very useful place for the discussion of issues to talk about the decisions that are facing him and the American people. They ought to be able to be conducted without shouting and shoving and pushing and people getting hurt. I think we can have honest policy disagreements without being either disagreeable, or certainly without being violent.
“And I think anybody that has a strong opinion should come to a town hall meeting, but also respect that others may want to also take part in the town hall meeting, or you know, may just want to listen to the debate. And if somebody is yelling, or if somebody particularly is being violent, I’m not entirely sure that helps the entire process for anybody involved.”