On Saturday, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman held an event for his constituents at a public library in Aurora, Colorado. At least 150 constituents showed up, most of them hoping to ask Coffman about his recent vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his plans for a replacement. But only about 70 people got to meet with Coffman: Despite booking a large room with ample space, Coffman allowed in only four constituents at once for five minutes at a time. When the crowd grew restless, police put up crime scene tape and Coffman snuck out the back door—six minutes before the event was scheduled to end.
Coffman co-authored a Denver Post op-ed on Friday urging the full and immediate repeal of the ACA. About 419,000 Coloradans have gained health care coverage since the enactment of the law, and many of them stand to lose their insurance if it is repealed. Yet Coffman has not proposed a clear replacement for the law, an issue constituents hoped to ask him about on Saturday. “I am potentially going to lose my health insurance,” Berthie Ruoff told NBC 9 while she waited to meet with her representative. “I’ve had a preexisting condition. I’ve had breast cancer. What’s going to happen to me? My spouse who had health insurance passed away. What do I do? You know, what am I supposed to do?”
But neither Ruoff nor many other constituents who stand to lose coverage had an opportunity meet with Coffman. When it grew clear that Coffman would refuse to meet with a majority of those at the event, the crowd channeled its agitation into patriotic songs:
This show of unity, however, did not impress Coffman. Indeed, it appears to have scared him: Rather than address the crowd, Coffman had police officers secretly escort him out of the back door before the event was set to conclude.
A few people noticed Coffman sneaking out and attempted to address him. “Next time,” one woman pleaded, “please be sure you hear all your constituents!” Coffman ignored them, hopped into a waiting car, and drove away. “Have a good afternoon!” yelled another exasperated woman.
In a statement released to NBC 9, Coffman insisted that “we only reserved the room at the Aurora Central Library for 90 minutes, which is usually plenty of time to see everyone,” and apologized to “those who were unable to see the congressman today.” While many in the crowd seemed to be under the impression that the event would be a town hall-style meeting, the statement claimed that that wasn’t the intended format:
Rep. Mike Coffman routinely hosts constituent one on one meetings across the district. Constituents are invited to meet individually with the congressman to express their opinions, seek help with a range of issues, and discuss legislation. Given the volume of people who came, the Congressman met with four people at a time for five minutes each for a total of more than 70 constituents.
But if the plan was for one-on-one meetings all along, then why did his staff reserve a large community room?