Health Care Protester Explains Rationale

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Bill Adair, editor of the fact-checking organization PolitiFact, scrutinizes the claims made by opponents of the health care overhaul, including one by protester Heather Liggett.

A growing number of town hall meetings focusing on health care reform are turning into shouting matches and loud protests. That was precisely the scene at recent forums in Austin, Texas, and Tampa, Fla. Heather Liggett, a grassroots organizer from Texas who opposes President Obama's proposed health care plan, offers her insight.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

It's turning into a long hot summer for Democratic members of Congress trying to hold town meetings on health care. This was the scene yesterday at a forum in Tampa.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified People: Open the door. Open the door. Open the door. Open the door. Open the door.

BLOCK: Protestors were shut out of the room when fire marshals said it was at capacity and there were scuffles. Inside, Congresswoman Kathy Castor left early after she was drowned out by chants of: you work for us and tyranny, tyranny. Over the weekend in Austin, Texas, Congressman Lloyd Doggett cut his neighborhood meeting short after he, too, was shouted down by protestors.

We're going to hear now from one of the people who helped steer people to that Texas protest. She is Heather Liggett of Austin. She's a stay-at-home mom. She also organized the July 4th anti-tax tea party there. Heather Liggett, welcome to the program.

Ms. HEATHER LIGGETT: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And I was looking on your meet-up group online, and you told people before that weekend meeting with Congressman Doggett to show up and give him a piece of our ears. Is the idea to actually change his mind on health care or to vent anger?

Ms. LIGGETT: The idea is to show him that the majority of people in the 25th district are against socialized medicine and that he was - or he represents us and, therefore, he needs to go along with the majority of how we feel and not go with party line.

BLOCK: So, in your view, what's shaping up in Congress is the equivalent of socialized medicine?

Ms. LIGGETT: In my mind, yes.

BLOCK: Okay. I want to play some tape for you of Congressman Doggett talking earlier this week on NPR about this protest and what it represents.

Representative LLOYD DOGGETT (Democrat, Texas): This whole grassroots opposition, pitchforks rising across the country is a total masquerade. It's total nonsense.

BLOCK: And he goes on to say that these protests are coordinated by the Republican Party and the insurance industry to stop reform. What do you say to that?

Ms. LIGGETT: You know, I have seen many of the comments that Congressman Doggett has made and saying that we were paid, we were bused in. And it's really offensive and it's insulting because we actually are constituents of his district. And the way that MeetUp.com works is you put in a zip code and that zip code becomes the originator of where people can come. And you can only go within a certain mileage away from that particular zip code. And the zip code that is registered in my MeetUp.com site is in South Austin.

So, therefore, the people that are in my meet-up group are from Travis and Hays County, which is his district. And he's not listening to us. He's disrespecting us. And he's out there saying that he was shouted down and not allowed to speak. And that's actually false. He came, he gave a five to seven minute speech and then there was about a 40-minute question and answer session.

My mother asked a question. It was at the very end he was asked a particular question, now that you see how many of us are upset about this, are you going to change your vote? To which he answered, I'm not going to let one angry mob change my vote. And that's when we started the chant, just say no.

BLOCK: What was your mother's question that she asked?

Ms. LIGGETT: My mom's question was why aren't you reading the bills before you sign them? And his response was that he helped co-sponsor this particular bill, which led into another question, you co-sponsored allowing illegals to get free medicine?

BLOCK: We're going to truth squad some of the claims that have been coming up at these forums in a moment with PolitiFact, but let's go on. I wanted to ask you about the tone at these protests. There were posters at the protest there in Austin of Congressman Doggett showing him with red devil's horns on his head. There was another one with his name written on a tombstone, he said. I saw one that had the letter S written to look like the Waffen SS in Nazi Germany. In Maryland, there was an effigy, a congressman who was hanged in effigy outside his office. Do you worry that this will backfire? You are being seen as an ugly, wild mob.

Ms. LIGGETT: Would I go ahead and put devil horns on Lloyd Doggett? No, I wouldn't. But it's freedom of speech. And we have not done anything near as bad as what people did to President Bush while he was in office.

BLOCK: Do you think a congressman is any more likely to vote against health care reform if he sees his name on a tombstone or devil's horns on his head?

Ms. LIGGETT: I don't think that he's any more likely to vote against it. But it doesn't matter, even when you ask him the questions and you try and have a dialogue with him, he is not going to change his vote. He's going to stick with party lines. He's not listening to the majority of his constituents. He's lying about us and he's disrespecting us.

BLOCK: Heather Liggett, thanks very much for talking with us.

Ms. LIGGETT: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Heather Liggett of Austin who helped coordinate a protest on Saturday against Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett.

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