MORE: 10th District town hall goes on without Rep. Comstock
At the front of the hall sat table and chairs, with one seat set for the congresswoman. The chair, as expected, remained empty for the course of the evening. Earlier in the week, Comstock's Deputy Chief of Staff Jeff Marschner said she couldn't attend the meeting because of a long-standing prior commitment. Marschner made reference to the two tele-town halls the second-term representative has held as a way of talking to thousands of her constituents “in a civil and conversational manner.”
Todd Kliman, described by organizers as an author, essayist, critic, food writer, speaker and teacher from Maryland, served as moderator.
“Tonight is about you,” he began. “Whether or not Rep. Comstock is joining us or not.”
The moderator promised “a night of thoughtful, civilized discourse ... without being unruly.”
Organized by the Indivisible VA District 10 group, the town hall was structured around seven topics: national security, conflicts of interest, education, science and environment, immigration and the Affordable Care Act. For each section, a panel of “fact checkers” – volunteer researchers – made reference to the congresswoman's voting record or past comments she had made on a specific issue. Throughout the night a volunteer transcribed constituents' comments, which organizers said will be passed on to Comstock.
Sue Riley from Ashburn was the first to speak, starting off by asking how the congresswoman was going to make sure Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election would be investigated independently. The gathered audience was shown a screen shot of Comstock's Feb. 15 tweet, saying she supports investigations by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Four or five speakers were allowed per topic before Kliman moved the discourse onto the next subject.
Immigration and health care proved to be the night's most emotive topics. Matthew Zelman, of Centreville, said this was his first time at a political event. He took to the floor to talk passionately about his two friends who pay taxes but are undocumented immigrants with an American-born son. Zelman said he wanted to know from the congresswoman if she would view them as criminals. He asked, “What are you going to do to make sure they have the paths to citizenship they deserve?”
In response to the topic of immigration, a slide was shown to the audience citing Comstock's comment in a September 2014 debate: “I certainly think immigration needs to be done by legislation, not executive order,” she said.
Receiving a standing ovation and the biggest cheers of the evening was retired Air Force colonel and former Loudoun County Democratic Committee Chairman Mike Turner.
Producing a small blue book from his jacket pocket, which turned out to be the Constitution, Turner, who had run for Comstock's congressional seat as a Democrat back in 2008, waved it in the air and said: “I served for 28 years wearing an Air Force uniform protecting this … in my wildest dreams I never imagined the chief enemy of this document would be the President of the United States,” Turner said. “When the impeachment comes, and it’s coming … when the impeachment comes, Rep. Comstock, will you vote with your constituents for the people who pay your salary or not?”
Ashburn resident Kona Gallagher, who had tears in her eyes, was the first to pose a question about the Affordable Care Act.
“I currently have two friends who both have children under the age of six, who are dealing with childhood cancer,” she said. She asked how the congresswoman would ensure, should the Affordable Care Act be repealed, how the children “are going to receive the care they need, and to grow up.”
Following the last comments of the evening on the subject of health care, the town hall ended on a somewhat conciliatory note toward Comstock. Health care fact checker and mother of four Ayala Sherbow, of Lovettsville, told the audience she met with the congresswoman earlier in the day.
There, Sherbow said, Comstock seemed to give certain reassurances about reform of the Affordable Care Act. Reading from notes she had taken during the meeting, Sherbow said the congresswoman told her the act won't be dismantled without a replacement in place, and no one would be dropped by their insurer.
After the meeting drew to a close, Jan Hyland from Indivisible told the Times-Mirror that, despite the public statement that Comstock wouldn't be attending, she thought her elected representative might show.
“I guess it's naive, but I kept thinking maybe she'll realize this is a real opportunity, maybe she'll see the efforts we put into it,” Hyland said. “I think unfortunately other political forces have been trying to define who we are, without actually knowing who we are.”
Marschner, the Comstock spokesman, issued a statement Saturday that again noted Comstock's "long standing prior commitment with Catholic Charities."
“The congresswoman and staff are in constant communication with her constituents -- patients, doctors, hospitals, health care providers and more -- about the efforts to repeal and replace the ACA," Marschner said. "She has met with hundreds of people to discuss these critical issues. On Friday, Congresswoman Comstock met with approximately 30 constituents in her Washington, D.C. office to have an actual discussion without any shouting that we have seen over the past week."
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