Republican congressman sneaks away from constituents demanding health care answers

Zack Ford Editor, Think Progress LGBT

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) tweeted Friday that he was excited to return home to Colorado this weekend, but things didn’t go very well when he got there.

On Saturday, his open meeting to chat with constituents at the Aurora Central Library was overwhelmed by votersparticularly concerned about the fate of their health care if the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) is repealed — a plan Coffman supports — without a replacement put in place. Rather than meet with most of them or even address them, he left the event via a back door and escaped in a waiting vehicle.

Among those who never got the chance to speak with Coffman was Berthie Ruoff. She told 9news, “I am potentially going to lose my health insurance. 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?” One of the hallmarks of the ACA was its provision that insurance carriers could no longer deny coverage to applicants because of pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes, and cancer — as many did prior to the law’s passage.

It’s not clear that Coffman would have had a satisfying answer for her. This week, he co-authored an op-ed in The Denver Post with his fellow Republican congressmen from Colorado defending their support for repealing the ACA. Addressing the argument that people could lose their coverage and not find new plans because of pre-existing conditions, the lawmakers promised a Republican plan that “envisions” expanding protections that existed before the ACA, such as privacy protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But such protections only help those who change but maintain insurance coverage, not those who lose it and have to start a new plan, meaning they would do nothing to help Ruoff or others like her if their coverage should end because of the law’s repeal.

Coffman’s event, his first since June, was supposed to run from 2 to 3:30 and allow for one-on-one conversations with constituents. Because of the turnout, he met with them four at a time, ultimately speaking with only about 70 people and leaving far more waiting. He also left before the event was even supposed to end, sneaking out around 3:24.

According to his chief of staff, Ben Stein, the event was not intended to be a town hall. “Unfortunately, we only reserved the room at the Aurora Central Library for 90 minutes, which is usually plenty of time to see everyone,” he said in a statement. “For those who were unable to see the Congressman today we apologize. These constituents are invited to attend upcoming meeting opportunities and we will block more time so that he can hear from more of his constituents.”

Coffman has issued no personal statement addressing his early departure or the health care concerns so many of his constituents were there to discuss with him. Despite vague assurances from many Republican members of Congress, no ACA replacement plans have yet been shared with the public even though repeal votes are already underway.


Despite the statement from Coffman’s office that he spoke with 70 people, Skhisov insists there’s no way that’s possible. “I was #41 on the list, and I was not even close to getting in,” he told ThinkProgress in an email. “Me and my wife estimate that he saw maybe 17–20 people.”

According to Skhisov, around 3:24, one of the constituents waiting by the door shouted that the next time the door opened, they were all planning to enter to confront Coffman. Assuming that warning was heard inside the room, he suspects that may have been what prompted Coffman to make his escape out the back.

Skhisov also believes that the room in which Coffman was holding the meetings was easily large enough to handle the capacity of people that instead spent the event standing in the hallway. They demanded a townhall format, but the congressman’s staff did not oblige.


Zack Ford is the editor of ThinkProgress LGBT at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, hailing from the small town of Newport, PA. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zack blogged for two years at ZackFordBlogs.com with occasional cross-posts at Pam’s House Blend. He also co-hosts a popular LGBT-issues podcast called Queer and Queerer with activist and performance artist Peterson Toscano. A graduate of Ithaca College (B.M. Music Education) and Iowa State University (M.Ed. Higher Education), Zack is an accomplished pianist with a passion for social justice education. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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