Kelly Gallaher asks Ryan for an apology
Rep. Paul Ryan got an earful at his listening session Tuesday.
Before the session was barely 15 minutes old he had been scolded by Community for Change member Kelly Gallaher and Iraqi war protester Miles Kristan.
Although the session was ostensibly for African-American issues, the audience of barely 40 was more than three-quarters white. The meagre crowd at the Douglas Avenue Flatiron Mall was a far contrast to previous Ryan listening sessions that overflowed the available space in much larger halls.
Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, started it off by calling on a surprised Gallaher who, when she found her rhythm, declared him guilty of "abuse of power" in the incident in which one of her emails to Community for Change members was faxed from Ryan's office to conservatives across the country -- bringing her a torrent of hate mail and phone calls.
""You did this for political reasons," Gallaher told Ryan; "You lit a fire that blew them toward me. It all came from your office. I want an apology."
Ryan only gave her a partial one. "Do I regret that these things happened to you? Yes," he said. But he added, "You're a spokesperson for a partisan organization" and one that threatened "to overwhelm" the listening sessions. Ryan defended the dissemination of Gallaher's email this way: "We were asked if we had knowledge of organizations trying to overwhelm the listening sessions. Yes..."
"I am sorry these things happened to you. I feel bad about that." But, "this is an issue people feel strongly about. I want people to come, individuals. We don't want partisan organizations to overwhelm these sessions."
At one point during his response, Gallaher attempted to break in, and Ryan said, "Don't interrupt, or I'll have to ask you to leave." That garnered a few boos from the crowd. After a few more minutes, he said, "We've already spent 12 minutes to give you the chance to speak your mind," and tried to turn the session to African-American concerns.
A black woman asked a question about getting help from the Racine County District Attorney's office, which Ryan said "is not a level of government I have control over."
The next question came from a white man, Miles Kristan, who asked, "Do you regret your vote on WMDs and Iraq?"
Ryan said, "I regret the way the war was prosecuted," and said "the administration made a couple of colossal blunders," referring to the disbanding of the Iraqi army and Baathification, which removed from office anyone who had served under Saddam Hussein. "The bad decisions made in spring of 2003...what I regret are the immediate aftermath of those."
Ryan referred to the present "success," crediting the surge. "The results are wonderful," he said: no genocide, no atrocities, women holding office. "Wonderful things are happening."
The session moved on to other issues at that point, but Kristan revived his objections to Ryan's votes in favor of the war toward the end of the session, calling the Congressman a "scumbag" and a "fascist" before Racine Police Chief Kurt Wahlen and two officers escorted him from the mall, his hands raised in the air as though being arrested, although he was merely told to go away. Previously, he had been kicked out of last week's Roma Lodge listening session as well.
Eventually, there were questions from African Americans, although the issues tended to concern all Americans. Craig Oliver, left, made the point when he asked/stated: "I thought we were all in this together. Not one health plan for black people and a different one for white people."
Ryan responded by giving the origin of these annual sessions: "Ken Lumpkin (former County Board supervisor -- who has just announced his intention to run for office again) said, 'Let's have a session for the African American community. I hope you're not offended that I thought Ken Lumpkin had a good idea."
Tessa Brown, a social worker, right, asked Ryan, "What can we do about the infant mortality and teen pregnancy rates," which are higher in Racine than anywhere else in Wisconsin. Ryan agreed the problem is severe and suggested she seek money from federal block grants, "which work pretty effectively." Brown said she had applied for these funds, which are oversubscribed, and noted that state funds have been cut. "We don't have the resources, so how do I do it?"
Ryan didn't have an answer, but said, "Let me do some more research, see if there are more resources." Alderman Jim Kaplan stood to say that the Racine Board of Health is also working on the issue, thanks to a state grant obtained by Rep. Cory Mason.
It was now about halfway through the 90-minute session and Keith Fair asked Ryan: "Do you believe that President Obama was born in the U.S.?" "Yes," said Ryan.
Fair then asked what Ryan's position is in response to the poor, and Ryan launched into his slide show presentation on the health care debate -- for what must have been the 18th time this week. "Health care costs are a huge issue," he said, adding, "The problem, Keith, is that we're not ready for the baby boomers. It's ugly stuff; if we don't reform it, costs will go through the roof."
After he got back to questions, David Corey noted that "the biggest health care facility in Kenosha is the jail. Your record is not very supportive of the poor," he told Ryan, mentioning Blackwater and other Iraq war spending. Returning to health care, he said: "You have excellent coverage (as a member of Congress); why can't we get it?"
Ryan replied, "I agree. Members of Congress should be in the same program as other Americans. That's fundamental."
He said he's been very careful of the language he's used, and said, "To say this (Obama's) bill 'has death panels and rationing'... I think that's going overboard. But do I think the bill will lead us down that path? Absolutely yes."
Ryan said Obama is "advocating a modification of the Hippocratic Oath," ("Above all, do no harm.") That generally refers solely to the patient, Ryan said, but "I also worry about society in general and the effect costs can have."
"If this (the current bill) doesn't pass, my hope is that bipartisan cooperation occurs... Look, I'm not saying this hasn't happened before," he said. "Democrats have decided to go it alone because they have the votes."