LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
This is the season when members of Congress and senators usually meet with constituents, but conservative activists are making that hard this year. They've been bombarding lawmakers during town hall meetings across the country. Some members have resorted to holding their town hall meetings by phone, which is not the case in Alabama. Two Democratic congressmen just won their jobs last fall and know they will face the voters again soon.
NPR's Debby Elliott reports.
DEBBY ELLIOTT: Congressman Bobby Bright is spending the August break navigating the lush, green backcountry of his south Alabama district. He started Wednesday with a meet and greet at Sisters Restaurant in Troy. A vegetable plate of fried cornbread in front of him, Bright explained why his squash casserole hadn't been touched.
Representative BOBBY BRIGHT (Democrat, Alabama): Rutabagas (unintelligible). I like rutabagas. I just can't eat squash too much.
ELLIOTT: But after the chit-chat about the fine Southern food and the local baseball team in the Dixie Boys World Series, voters like Bob Lambert wanted to talk about the health care proposals before Congress.
Mr. BOB LAMBERT: What I've heard about, eventually, it's going to go to a single-payer plan. I mean, that's what we're hearing down the road.
Rep. BRIGHT: I'm hearing that, too.
Mr. LAMBERT: We have the best health care in the world.
Rep. BRIGHT: Yup.
Mr. LAMBERT: I have friends in Canada that have called me and said don't you dare go into this system, because if I got a prostate problem, I can't even get to see my doctor for six months. I tell you, Mr. Congressmen…
Rep. BRIGHT: Don't let it happen.
Mr. LAMBERT: Don't let it happen. I mean…
ELLIOTT: Bright listened, then asks what should be done to curtail the rising costs of medical care.
Rep. BRIGHT: Because right now, the price of health care is escalating at a tremendous rate.
Mr. LAMBERT: I'm not saying we don't need health care reform, okay?
Rep. BRIGHT: I got it. Okay.
Mr. LAMBERT: I'm saying we don't need the government running health care.
ELLIOTT: That's been the message this week for Democrats all over the country, some heckled and booed by unruly crowds. Even Blue Dog Democrats who oppose the current legislation haven't escaped the conservative wrath.
Unidentified Man #1: And let people know about it.
Unidentified Woman #1: Put it in the newspaper. Put it on the news.
Unidentified Woman #2: …in the paper.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Woman #3: It's not funny.
ELLIOTT: About a 150 people crashed Alabama Democrat Parker Griffith's news conference in Huntsville this week, demanding a town hall.
Unidentified Man #2: Are you afraid to have a town hall meeting?
Representative PARKER GRIFFITH (Democrat, Alabama): No, sir. I'm not afraid of anything.
Unidentified Man #2: Yes, you are.
ELLIOTT: How about now, he said, and proceeded to answer questions for about an hour and a half, emphasizing that he has been fighting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's agenda.
Rep. GRIFFITH: Well, let's see. I voted against the stimulus. I voted against cap and trade. I voted against the bailout of the banks, every major bill that has come before us that expanded government, I voted against it.
ELLIOTT: And he promised to do the same when it comes to health care. All three of the Democrats in Alabama's congressional delegation - Griffith, Bright and Artur Davis, who's running for governor - opposed the bills now before Congress. Back in south Alabama, more than a hundred people waited to hear Congressman Bright at the town hall in Goshen - population 300.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
Unidentified Man #3: (unintelligible)
Unidentified Man #4: He took a few extra roads, but he got there.
Rep. BRIGHT: I'm here.
ELLIOTT: Bright is the first Democrat to hold this House seat in more than four decades, and he's quick to display his conservative credentials.
Rep. BRIGHT: Whatever plan's out there, number one, I won't support it if it supports abortion, because I'm against abortion, you know. And…
(Soundbite of applause)
ELLIOTT: There was no heckling here, just a roomful of worried seniors. Marsha Trotter(ph) held a handmade sign that read: My life, my business.
Ms. MARSHA TROTTER: And what I keep hearing is that you will be required, required to meet with a board, a board to discuss your end-of-life options. Now that's my life, and that's my business and I don't want the government in it.
Rep. BRIGHT: I mean, I hear your sign and I hear what you're saying, and I agree with you wholeheartedly.
ELLIOTT: Bright explained that wasn't in the bill, and warned voters that special interests have been trying to distort the health care debate. Who can we trust, one man asked. It was a hard question to answer.
Debby Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.