CORTLAND, N.Y. — About 150 people attended a town hall meeting at United Presbyterian Church in Cortland Saturday, which revolved around the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and cut Title X funding — and what local residents can do to influence policymakers in Washington.
The event was organized by Indivisible Cortland County, a group formed by local residents in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. It is modeled after the national ‘Indivisible’ movement, which has thousands of communities across the country organizing protests, town hall meetings and action events in an effort to resist the agenda of the Trump administration and congressional republicans.
Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Republican who represents New York’s 22nd congressional district, which includes all of Cortland County and parts or all of seven other counties in central New York, declined an invitation by ICC to attend the meeting. Tenney replaced former Rep. Richard Hanna, a moderate Republican who gained national attention last year when he publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in the 2016 election.
Tenney, who initially only planned to hold town hall meetings by telephone, has since changed course following pressure from protesters to hold in-person meetings. Tenney's office says she plans to hold town hall meetings in the Utica and Binghamton area.
Out of the woodwork
Homer native Colleen Lanning, who spoke at Saturday’s event, said she has ‘never done anything politically’ active in her life. She decided to join the Indivisible Cortland County group in light of efforts by the Republican leadership in Washington to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which she says offers protections to millions of Americans who previously could not get access to affordable health care.
Lanning, who has multiple sclerosis, said the proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act are “very complicated and very cumbersome” and will likely lead to increased costs to consumers.
“My family will be forced into a high risk pool of premiums and deductibles that will likely make coverage unaffordable, and that’s if we can get coverage at all,” Lanning said, who believes access to affordable health care is “a basic human right, not a privilege.”
Saturday’s event also featured a guest speaker who was previously involved in politics before becoming a partner at a law firm based in Washington, D.C.
Joshua Riley, an Endicott native who previously served as an advisor to Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, offered words of encouragement to audience members who were concerned that their elected officials weren’t responding to their calls and emails.
When asked what local residents can do to influence policymakers in Washington, Riley encouraged people to continue contacting their elected representatives with their concerns.
“I know it doesn’t always feel like your voice is being heard, but I came here from Washington to tell you that it is,” Riley said. He recalled his days as a congressional staffer when he was required to monitor how many people called a representative's office and what issues were brought up. Social media, he said, is also a useful tool to gain the attention of politicians.
Riley offered reason for optimism, saying that protesters’ efforts to resist the Trump Administration’s agenda of repealing the Affordable Care Act are working.
“You are the reason we’re hearing less these days about ACA repeal and more about ACA repair,” he said.
Lifelong Republican changes course
Jim Pantas, of Cortland, was a lifelong Republican until August of last year, when he changed his registration to independent.
Now over the age of 80, Pantas decided to change his voter registration after Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president.
“The more I listened to Trump, the more I couldn’t identify with him,” he said.
At Saturday’s town hall, Pantas said elected officials such as Tenney need to meet with their constituents, regardless of whether or not she agrees with their beliefs.
“If they’re afraid of a little adversity, they only need to look to Harry Truman, who eloquently said, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’”
Future town halls in the works
ICC plans to hold another town hall meeting in the near future, organizers said.
While a venue, date and time have not been established, the group’s next meeting will feature Mike McMahon as its guest speaker. McMahon owns EZ Acres Farm in Homer and serves as chair of both the Cortland County Business Development Corporation and the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency.
“We’re trying to grow organically,” said Randy Ross, who serves on the ICC steering committee.