PERRY: Congressman Coffman’s virtual Obamacare meetings are really needless political hide and seek

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I don’t blame Congressman Mike Coffman and dozens of Republicans just like him for wanting to avoid an unflattering spectacle by subjecting themselves to town meetings focusing on the fate of Obamacare.

Coffman was unceremoniously sandbagged at just such a meeting in January at an Aurora Public Library. At what was supposed to be just another town hall confab, dozens of “constituents” showed up ready to roar in protest about repealing Obamacare and a host of other issues Republicans are making hay with since Trump and fellow Republicans won it all in November.

Rather than face a made-for-TV onslaught of protesters as he left the meeting, he sneaked out the back and got caught doing it by 9News cameras.

Totally awkward.

I totally understand that Coffman wouldn’t want to subject himself to a similar made-for-TV public thrashing again, but instead he subjects himself to deserved criticism for offering audiences only to the few and chosen, rather than everyone and anyone he represents in Congress.

With a great deal of flourish, Team Coffman issued releases late Monday that made it seem he was ready to get out and find out from the people affected by Obamacare repeal just what’s what. It’s hard to see how it could happen when you look at the details of Coffman’s  “listening tour.” Coffman said he was going to take the time to meet with Aurora-area patient “advocates” and other health-care professionals. That’s not a bad thing, and Coffman should be commended for seeking out their counsel. But he’ll be doing it at planned, private meetings, not on a dais at a public meeting where everyone can hear what they’re telling Coffman and, more importantly, hear what Coffman tells them.

Coffman will be listening to actual constituents on this defining and critical issue — on the phone. He’s planning virtual town hall meetings via phone conferences. Ever had a phoner? They suck.  Now getting on the horn to listen to people per se is by no means a bad thing, but phone conferences are not unlike contacting your virtual congressional representative, who will offer up a virtual vote on virtual health-care bills.

In kissing and giving someone a piece of one’s mind, virtual is disappointing.

Coffman virtually pulled this public-relations ploy off. A slick and carefully worded campaign missive made it seem the congressman was fearlessly setting out to get the facts and bring Aurora to the promised land of cheap health care for (almost) everybody. It was so slick that a few news outlets around town rewarded the effort with glowing accounts of Coffman’s Listening Tour, failing to point out that Coffman would not be listening to his constituents in the same room.

The whole thing is pretty disappointing and hugely unnecessary. Taking the high-fives as a congressman is every bit as much a part of the job as taking the hell-no’s. It’s not for the faint of heart.

I’m not saying that Coffman or any other Republican or Democratic elected official has to attend partisan ambushes or risk being labeled a sissy. And unruly obstruction at public meetings is nothing short of bullying. If you want to protest, take it outside. But if partisan opponents try and use these valuable town meetings to create political theater then create events that make it hard or impossible. Limit the size of the crowd and allow in only those who win seats from a lottery, handled by an independent agency like the League of Women Voters or a chamber of commerce. Ban protest materials. Set rules for civility, and if someone violates the rules, escort them out. As long as it works both ways for both parties. Tea party protesters have played the disrupter game for years against Democrats and even some Republicans.

Confused? That’s not by accident. With so much contradictory news spun by all kinds of political agencies, entities and personalities, it’s important to make sure the public knows what’s what.

Here it is: Coffman has shown interest in gleaning information about the future of Obamacare. That’s good. He’ll talk to local major players in the industry and have some kind of communal phone conversation with some of us little guys. That’s OK. But he’s not meeting with constituents face to face on this issue, and he’s not directly telling you that. That’s bad.

There are plenty of people who don’t want to write their congressman a letter that they have no idea if he ever reads. There are plenty of people who don’t want to have a virtual conversation that’s as informative and satisfying as trying to get cable TV box instructions from a call center in a country where everyone is mysteriously named “Jeff” or “Veronica.”

We’ve all been sucking it up as we’ve suffered through the very real abuse inflicted by Republican health care legislation, Democratic health care legislation and entities that have wagged both those dogs for decades. Coffman and other congressmen can suck it up and show up at town meetings to get an earful, first-hand about how serious the health-care issue is, and how wrong they might be about how to change it.

It’s not virtually mandatory, it really is.

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