Dozens demand town hall meeting with Sen. Sullivan during annual address to lawmakers
A group of about 50 people gathered in front of the state capitol building in Juneau to demand a town hall meeting with Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan Friday afternoon. Sullivan was in Juneau to deliver an annual address to lawmakers on his work in Congress.
In his speech, the Republican senator did not reference the Senate’s work on repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” The subject was the source of frustration for protesters Friday morning, who said Sullivan has been unwilling to engage in a public forum on the issue.
“Do your job,” the group shouted. “This is what democracy looks like.”
But Sullivan told reporters he doesn’t see those types of meetings as productive.
“I would say if you’re invited to a town hall for the soul purpose of being shouted down and shouted at, A. it’s not a good use of anyone’s time,” Sullivan said. “You don’t get constructive engagement, which is what’s really important and I think it’s disrespectful to the Alaskans that I’ve seen by the hundreds who do want to have constructive dialogue.”
Sullivan’s response appears to mirror that of Republican Rep. Peter King, of New York, who told CNN Thursday he believes town hall meetings devolve into a “screaming session.”
Sullivan says he’s met with several stakeholder groups on the topic of health care since December, including events with the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and the state’s largest labor organization, AFL-CIO, on Wednesday. The organization’s president, Vince Beltrami, said Sullivan held a video conference meeting with about 40 union representatives statewide that day.
Sullivan also cited his recent appearance at an Alaska Department of Fish and Game Board of Game meeting.
“That’s a public meeting,” Sullivan told reporters. “We try to be as accessible as possible and we’re going to continue to try to do that.”
In December, Sullivan said he wanted to repeal and replace the ACA.
“Right now, I’ve kind of said ‘repeal and repair’ because we’re keeping some of the things, like keeping kids on their parents’ insurance until [age] 26,” Sullivan told reporters Friday.
More than 27,000 Alaskans now have Medicaid because of a provision in the ACA that allowed the state to expand the Medicaid program with federal funding in 2015. Sullivan said his goal is to make sure coverage of that population continues.
“But I have not committed a strict ‘hey this amount of funding is something that I’m going to draw as a red line,'” he added. “Right now there’s a lot of different approaches to how that might happen, so I’m not committing myself to any one singular approach yet.”
In her speech to lawmakers Wednesday, Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, vowed she would not repeal federal funding for Planned Parenthood as part of the ACA repeal process. Sullivan said he would rather the funding go to broad-based community health centers instead, adding that there are only four Planned Parenthood clinics in the state, but more than 160 health centers.
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