A group of demonstrators gathered outside the El Cajon offices of Representative Duncan Hunter for the sixth time in as many weeks on Tuesday (March 7) to protest a proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known commonly as Obamacare. Earlier in the morning, Republicans released a draft of what those changes could look like.
"A good friend of mine is undergoing hip-replacement surgery soon," said Al Lefcourt, one of about two dozen people gathered on the sidewalk outside a strip mall housing Hunter's district offices. "That would normally cost $100,000, which she doesn't have. Under Obamacare she's going to get the procedure covered for $10,000, which is still expensive, but much more affordable. I don't know what she would do without it."
Among the other demonstrators: a woman in a bunny suit holding a sign denouncing "Dirty Duncan," a nod to allegations that Hunter used campaign funds to pay for, among other things, a $600 airline ticket for a pet rabbit.
Organizer Richard Nyles said the group opposed "radical changes" that could result in millions of Americans losing access to health care.
"The bill is in its draft phase right now, so we're trying to put pressure on [Congress] so they don't push all of these negative things through," said Nyles, admitting that gaining an ally in Hunter was unlikely.
"We met with staff for four weeks in a row, and although we disagree, they were very pleasant," Nyles continued, before describing a souring in relations.
"Two Tuesdays ago, I had about 225 people show up. We met up with [deputy chief of staff Mike Harrison], with the sheriff's department, and everything went great. He sent an email later stating that we were no longer allowed because we were disrespectful to police officers, but the sheriff that was brought in actually commented on how everyone thanked him for being there, so that was obviously untrue.
"He told us we were no longer allowed. He took away our democracy."
According to earlier reports, Harrison accused activists of filming inside the office without consent, impeding local businesses and other constituents who felt threatened by their presence, and also disrespecting law-enforcement officials.
Harrison did state that an open town-hall forum including a visit from Hunter would be forthcoming for constituents to voice their concerns directly. The congressman has since scheduled an event for 10 a.m. Saturday morning to take place at the Ramona Mainstage at 626 Main Street in Ramona. While more than 1000 people showed up at a forum organized by opponents of Rep. Darrell Issa (which Issa declined to attend), the venue has a maximum capacity of 400.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the office's indication that they would no longer meet with the group, and following allegations that Hunter's representatives had caused several cars belonging to activists to be towed, Nyles says that the group may refocus their efforts going forward.