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Opponents of health care proposals next take aim at Skelton

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 12, 2009 - U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton has become the next target of opponents of the Democratic proposals to revamp health care, because the congressman has opted against holding a town hall meeting on the topic.

Missouri leaders with Americans for Prosperity and with the Adam Smith Foundation held a mock forum  at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday outside Skelton's district office in Jefferson City, at 1401 Southwest Boulevard. Photos indicate that at least dozens attended. Organizers put the number of attendees at 100.

Participants had their "concerns and testimonies'' captured on video, which organizers say will be presented later on a DVD to the congressman.

Americans for Prosperity cites Skelton's "recent refusal to hold a town hall meeting to hear constituent voices questioning and opposing a nationalized health care plan..."

The congressman recently did hold a roundtable discussion at a health center in Sedalia. But Carl Bearden, state director for Americans For Prosperity, says that event doesn't qualify because it wasn't open to the public.

"Concerns about cost, quality of care and control of health care decisions are being voiced by citizens with a vested interest - their own heath and the health of their families - all across the country, and it is no different in Congressman Skelton's district," said Bearden, a former state representative from St. Charles.

"So, in the absence of a town hall forum, we're offering another outlet to his constituents to make their voices heard," Bearden added.

Skelton press secretary Rebecca Loving replied that the Sedalia event reflected the congressman's belief in the importance of "meeting with health-care professionals and having frank and open discussions. We are asking that constituents contact one of his offices to give us their views on this issue."

(Some Democratic allies privately suspect there's a link between today's protest and the latest Republican effort to unseat Skelton, who has been in office since 1977 and represents a conservative district. Democratic blog sites also have taken offense lately at some of the conservatives' personal jabs at Skelton, who has limited use of his arms because of a childhood bout with polio.)

Bearden added in an interview that his group has been paying attention to which Missouri members of Congress -- from both parties -- are holding public health care events. In the St. Louis area, he faulted state Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, for choosing instead to hold tele-conferences.

Clay has said that he had advised his region colleague and fellow Democrat, Rep. Russ Carnahan, not to hold last week's forum in Mehlville that turned violent.

But Bearden contended that Carnahan has run into problems with such events because he has continued to maintain that the vocal critics are "a paid mob."

Bearden praised U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., for taking a different tack. That's why, he said, Tuesday's forum -- while spirited -- remained generally civil and under McCaskill's control.

"Claire has acknowledged that the people who oppose these health-care proposals are for real,'' Bearden said.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.