The "spirited but cordial" tone of a series of town hall meetings Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson held this week throughout his district was maintained Saturday in Beaufort.
More than 1,200 people packed the Beaufort High School gymnasium Saturday for the third in a four-city tour throughout South Carolina's 2nd Congressional District. Wilson held similar meetings in Lexington and Columbia earlier in the week and rounded out the tour with a stop Saturday afternoon on Hilton Head Island.
Though the debate over Obama's health care legislation, H.R. 3200, has drawn the ire of some voters across the country, Wilson said the dialogue between he and his constituents this week has been respectful.
"The reception has been spirited but cordial and informative," Wilson said in an interview. "Having already spoken to numerous constituents concerned over this health care debate, I expected that individuals would be passionate about this issue. I understand that many Americans have felt shut out by what has been happening in Washington with legislation being rushed through with little time for debate or review."
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"An individual's health care is an extremely personal concern," he said. "Americans do not want to relinquish control over their health care decisions to a government bureaucrat while seeing more of their tax dollars go to fund an ever growing and inefficient federal bureaucracy."
Though Wilson and others who spoke Saturday were occasionally interrupted by a handful of vocal Obama supporters, the meeting lacked the fireworks seen in similar town hall meetings across the country.
"Health care is one of the most important issues there is," said Janice Barry of Beaufort. "You can have an opinion about how health care reform should be handled and not come into these meetings screaming and carrying on like a crazy person."
Mare Babaracco of Port Royal said she was disappointed that only a half hour of the 90-minute meeting was devoted to Wilson answering questions from voters on health care and other issues. Meeting organizers had attendees fill out question cards, 600 of which were returned Saturday. Fewer than 10 were answered during the meeting, but Wilson made himself available afterwards to answer more questions.
"This wasn't a true town hall, it was a political rally," Babaracco said. "It was clearly designed to promote Republican talking points."
Congress has yet to act on H.R. 3200 or the Republican alternative, H.R. 3400, but the debate is expected to resume when legislators return to Washington after Labor Day.
Wilson said he's excited to return to Capitol Hill.
"By listening to the families of the 2nd Congressional District, I will be able to carry their concerns and their voices back to Washington to help us craft a set of health care reforms that put patients first," he said.