Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, did his best to defuse antipathy to his voting record at the beginning of an open meeting in Ketchum on Wednesday.
Speaking to more than 50 people assembled at Smoky Mountain Pizza, Minnick, the sole Democrat in Idaho's four-member congressional delegation, defended his stance on contentious issues such as the federal stimulus package and health care reform.
Minnick said his record of voting against his party line is a reflection of the desires of his constituents in Idaho's 1st Congressional District, which includes a portion of Boise, as well as Coeur d'Alene, Nampa and Meridian.
Minnick said the large Republican base in his district has led him to be considered the "most independent" member of his party.
"I very much want Obama to be the most successful president of our lifetime," Minnick said. "But I want the best laws possible, not just those from the Democratic left. We need Republican buy-in to create permanent solutions."
After his brief introduction, Minnick listened to questions and comments from the public, which largely focused on health care reform, but also touched on immigration.
Minnick, who opposes the Democrats' health care reform bill, said he has a different idea of how the system would best work.
"The government should set the rules of the road and then let private business do the work," he said.
Minnick said that if a new health care bill were able to establish rules for universal health care, ensuring that access is not dependent on salary or preconditions, more competition would develop among health insurance providers in Idaho.
More importantly, though, Minnick said the best solution would likely come from a bipartisan bill that would help lower the cost of health care. To that end, he agreed with Sun Valley resident Todd Morgan, who said any health care bill should include tort reform as a way to keep doctors from ordering unnecessary tests as a means of protecting themselves against possible malpractice litigation.
That didn't keep some members of the public from criticizing Minnick from standing in the way of a quick overhaul of the system.
Gini Ballou, vice chairwoman of Blaine County Democrats, said skyrocketing insurance costs are putting her family, and millions of Americans, at risk of not being able to afford health care. Ballou argued that reform is needed immediately, and that Minnick should be on board with his own party.
After the meeting, Nancy Masner-Whiton, chairwoman of Blaine County Democrats, said she was frustrated that there wasn't more discussion of the Democratic platform.
Masner-Whiton contended that about a third of the audience was Republican, and with only an hour and a half, the Democrats' concerns were not sufficiently discussed. She based her estimate on seeing people she recognized.
"We really appreciate Walt coming, especially because he knows that there are people here that are not happy with him," Masner-Whiton said. "But it was frustrating because we supported him during his election and were looking forward to asking him specific things and didn't get the chance."
Ketchum City Councilman Larry Helzel, who also supported Minnick's election bid, was less critical, saying Minnick's understanding of the severity of the national deficit is the basis for his fiscal conservatism.
"He's trying not to make the deficit worse," Helzel said. "Despite the wrangling over health care, we can't take our eye off the main message, which is that he's working hard for the people of Idaho."
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