A large crowd at USM Gulf Park couldn’t get Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran and Rep. Steven Palazzo to come to their town hall meeting, so they brought the congressmen’s portraits to fill in for them.
The portraits endured a lot of laughter, some jabs and jeers, but when speaker Chris Marcell, who was generally favorable to the three, was booed, that behavior was quickly shut down.
Kiara Taite, one of the meeting’s main organizers, reminded the crowd they had promised to be courteous.
“Thank you, sir,” said Ashley Kittrell, the other main organizer. “We need to hear other viewpoints, too.”
The crowd was given two cards — a red one to hold up if they disagreed with a speaker and a green one to hold up denoting agreement. The auditorium usually was a sea of green as attendees discussed the environment, health care, jobs and the economy.
Rowdy and rude behavior at town halls across the country is the reason Palazzo has given for turning down the invitation from the women.
The crowd heartily disagreed with Palazzo for signing on to a one-sentence bill to do away with the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Eliminate the EPA?” asked Elizabeth Jones of Ocean Springs. “No, eliminate Palazzo.”
Julia Weaver of Ocean Springs championed public schools. She asked the crowd to be wary of school choice, which could work when properly regulated but also could be a means of privatizing public schools.
“Will you pledge to consult with parents, teachers and administrators ... before you vote?” Weaver asked of the three absent congressmen.
Lea Campbell of Ocean Springs asked who among the crowd was a paid protester, another complaint of Republicans. That line got some laughs but no raised hands.
“I have not received my check,” she said. “I was just wondering.”
The physical therapist started the health-care discussion by noting most of her patients are poor.
“We will be the most impacted (by the proposed repeal and replacement of Obamacare),” she said. “My patients. My patients.”
She said no one seems to know what the replacement plan will be.
“What will happen to the 30-plus million who have insurance now who didn’t have it before?” she asked.
Carol Burnett opened the discussion about jobs, saying an increase in the minimum wage was essential to getting single working moms out of poverty, noting “$7.25 an hour doesn’t bring their families to economic security.”
She also advocated for paid family leave.
“No mom should have to choose,” she said, “between a job she needs and the child she loves.”