Dalton Daily Citizen: Protesters gather outside Graves' office urging him to meet with voters


If Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, won't come to them, about a dozen residents of Georgia's 14th Congressional District decided to come to him Monday morning. Or at least to his district office on Thornton Avenue in Dalton.

"I'm concerned that Rep. Graves isn't listening to his constituents, especially on the health care bill (passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week)," said Dalton resident Richard Virgo. "It was reckless for him to vote on a bill that didn't have a score from the Congressional Budget Office. Would you buy a car when you didn't know how much it would cost? I'd like to see Rep. Graves make an effort to come out into the community and explain his vote and listen to our concerns."

The health care bill passed by the Republican-controlled House is officially dubbed the American Health Care Act. But Virgo held a sign calling it the "anti-health care act."

Virgo was one of about a dozen protesters who gathered outside Graves' office Monday. Some carried signs identifying themselves as part of the "Indivisible" movement, which was formed last year to oppose President Donald Trump's policies.

Amanda Tate, of Calhoun, noted that Graves did not hold a town hall forum in his district during the congressional break in February. She brought a petition with 56 signatures asking that he hold a town hall meeting in the district.

"I think he should hold a meeting where he can hear from his constituents about the issues," she said.

But Garrett Hawkins, a spokesman for Graves, said the congressman regularly holds meetings with constituents and attends community events.

"He also held a telephone town hall -- one of the most effective ways to reach the largest number of constituents -- in March in which more than 8,000 constituents participated and health care was discussed extensively. He will hold additional telephone town halls throughout the year," he said.

Several of the protesters said they took part in the telephone town hall and it wasn't the same as an in-person event.

"I was really frustrated. It was so tightly controlled. There was so little opportunity to ask questions or even to ask him to clarify things he said," said Tennga resident Dennis Jarvis.

Jarvis said he was concerned that the House health care bill, if passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Trump, would allow insurance companies to deny coverage to or charge higher rates to customers with some pre-existing conditions.

"The bill allocated $8 billion to fund high-risk pools (to subsidize health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions), but I've seen numbers that indicate it could take three times to five times that amount to cover those with pre-existing conditions," he said.

Supporters say the bill would repeal and replace Obamacare, but the protesters say they feared its changes could take health insurance away from up to 20 million people.

"If there are problems with Obamacare, we should fix it not repeal it," said Rome resident Amy Mendes.

In a statement on his website, Graves said that those with pre-existing conditions would continue to receive protection under the House bill.

"What's new is that each state can take its own approach, as long as there are basic protections and clear benefits, such as increasing enrollment, offering more choices and lowering costs," he said. "A lot of work has gone into finding the right balance between lifting federal mandates and protecting Americans with serious health challenges, and I believe this is it."