U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter said Thursday’s town hall meeting at the South Bryan County Administration Building was a chance to hear from constituents.
He got an earful.
Yet, Thursday’s meeting was downright civil in contrast to a March town hall meeting in Savannah where Carter was booed. There were even a few empty seats in the room where Bryan County commissioners meet.
In all, about 60 people attended the town hall, one of nine Carter held in the 1stDistrict in the past week. Those who spoke expressed concerns about a variety of issues ranging from health care to the environment to President Donald Trump.
But health care seemed to be the most pressing concern.
Carter, a pharmacist by trade and a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare, urged those at the meeting to read the GOP’s American Health Care Act, which was narrowly voted down by the Senate.
He also said the effort to repeal Obamacare wasn’t over.
“One thing we’re not going to do is give up. We’re Americans,” Carter said in his opening remarks. “We don’t give up. We’re going to continue on until we get something, and we’re going to do it in a bipartisan fashion.”
Those words didn’t resonate with some in the audience. Joe Stuart of Hinesville challenged Carter on health care by saying “Let us have what you have, and you have what I have.”
Richmond Hill’s Laura McGee asked why Washington’s focus seemed to be on health insurance.
“I’m wondering why in all the discussions about health care, it’s always about insurance,” she said. “People don’t need insurance. I’ve got insurance, and I’ve still got problems with health care. We need health care, not insurance.”
Carter told McGee she was “spot on,” and agreed with another member of the audience on the need to allow people to choose health insurance the same way they get car insurance, by shopping around among companies.
That, he claims, will help bring prices down. Health care currently accounts for a sixth of the U.S. economy, Carter said.
Health care for veterans also came up for discussion. Robert Sweeny of Richmond Hill blasted the lack of care he receives through the VA.
“It’s almost like we’re invisible. We wait, and we wait, and we wait,” he said. “It’s ridiculous what we go through. You send us off to war, then we come back and we sit on a waiting list for two-three years. When are we going to get the benefits we were promised?”
Carter, who earlier said some 700 VA employees had been fired in efforts to improve the agency, agreed that more needed to be done. He also used veterans’ trouble with the VA to deride efforts to make healthcare universal.
“If you want to see what universal health care would look like, look at the VA.”
That drew protests from some in the crowd, and Carter was asked whether he agreed with President Trump when Trump said the GOP healthcare bill was “mean,” as well as whether he supported expanding Medicaid benefits to help more people pay for health care. Georgia is one of the states that did not expand the program under President Barack Obama.
“The worst thing we can do is expand Medicaid,” Carter said. “Medicaid is a safety net program, we need it for the aged, for the blind, for the disabled, for mothers and children. We need to focus on them, we don’t need it for able bodied adults.”
Carter also got questions from Sandra Workman of Richmond Hill about his stance on offshore drilling and seismic testing.
Carter said he wants to be open-minded, but favors energy independence and an “all of the above” energy policy that includes multiple types of energy. “If there are reserves out there (off the coast) we need to know about it,” he said.
Carter also was questioned on taxes — he said he favors a simplified tax code so that “nine out of 10 Americans can fill out their taxes on a post card,” and claims tax reform efforts could save Georgians up to $4,000 annually.
Surprisingly, comments he made at earlier town halls in which he said he wouldn’t see the $4,000 because his wife would get it, drew some criticism at Thursday’s town hall from a woman who found that and similar comments sexist and “harmful to women.”
Carter responded: “All I can say is I guess I wouldn’t be a very good standup comedian,” he said.
He also responded to a question about his now infamous “snatch a knot in their asses” remark on national TV after the Senate voted down the repeal of Obamacare.
The questioner, Monica Greer of Richmond Hill, asked why he thought it was appropriate to threaten violence against a woman. Carter, who grew up in West Chatham, said the comment means “to get your house in order,” and wasn’t directed against one senator, it was aimed at all seven who voted against the bill.
“But I do want to commit to not using any more Southern expressions on national TV,” Carter said.
He also praised the military, noting Fort Stewart was vital to the military’s interest. But when asked about President Trump’s announcement that transgender soldiers shouldn’t be allowed to serve, Carter said that while he respected their service, he agreed with the president’s opinion because soldiers getting such surgeries are undeployable for three years. That was unfair to their fellow soldiers, he said.
That later drew a response from a man who said he retired after 28 years and had served with transgender soldiers.
“That doesn’t matter to me,” said Kelvin Miller, a retired chief warrant officer who lives in Richmond Hill. “What matters is if I’m in that foxhole and somebody’s shooting at me, I want somebody’s who’ll shoot back. I don’t care what their sexual preference is.”
Miller also urged Carter and others in Washington to work together to improve health care options.
Carter was praised by some in the audience for his response to Hurricane Matthew and his support for coastal Georgia.
One man asked whether Carter would favor term limits.
“I’m willing to abide by term limits if it’s a level playing field,” he said, then added: “But if you’re going to have term limits for elected officials, you sure better have term limits for the bureaucrats, because they get up there and think they can run the show, think they can outlast you. We do need term limits for bureaucrats.”
Earlier Thursday, Carter met with residents in Effingham County. He finished with a townhall in Savannah Thursday night.
One woman at the South Bryan town hall was longtime Richmond Hill resident Linda Harn. She didn’t say anything or ask questions during the meeting.
“I came to listen and to learn,” Harn said, and applauded Carter for holding the meetings.
“I think that him getting together with the people in his district, whether they voted for him or not, gives us an insight into government, moreso than what you see in the media,” she said. “And he listens. I like that. Whether you like what he has to say or not, he at least listens. I think he’s an honorable person.”