By J. K. Schmid
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
WYE MILLS, MD — U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris, R-First District, was confronted by a hostile crowd at Chesapeake College on Maryland’s Eastern Shore Friday during his first face-to-face town hall with constituents since being re-elected last November.
The estimated 1,000 people who attended the 75-minute meeting groaned as Harris attempt to give his standard 10-slide PowerPoint presentation while others yelled “you work for us” and “you sold us out, Andy.”
Harris frequently stopped the presentation when he could not speak over the crowd. During a long period of vocal disagreement, Harris slouched against his podium until the crowd had finished.
During the tenth slide, a woman stood up from her seat and addressed Harris directly.
The representative threatened to have her ejected for the disruption, but members of the crowd answered Harris by holding up hundreds of sheets of red paper to signify their disagreement with the congressman.
“First Amendment. First Amendment. First Amendment,” shouted 75-year-old R. Eyvind Wahlgren, a local resident.
Wahlgren described Harris as getting “blistered” in the evening’s exchange.
“He’s been ducking it,” Wahlgren said. “He does these teleconference town halls and he’s been ducking we the people. And he works for us. We pay his salary and he should be out here. I don’t think he heard. I don’t think it’s going to do any good, frankly.”
The 904-capacity auditorium was either at or over capacity by 6 p.m. when the town hall meeting began.
Harris is the only Republican in the Maryland delegation to Congress and this was the first in-person town hall Harris he conducted this year. Previous mass engagements with his constituents have all been conducted via teleconference.
Those in attendance wrote personalized messages on cards that were handed out at the beginning of the session. Messages included ZIP codes and phrases such as “Hell no,” “Poverty is a pre-existing condition” and “Keep nutrition in schools.”
Red sheets began going up during the invocation and became the dominant signal as the event continued.
Harris’ slide presentation covered topics of a growing deficit, the possible insolvency of Social Security and Medicare, and mounting insurance company profits since the inception of the Affordable Care Act.
Harris said this year’s $500 billion deficit was a concern because “it won’t go on forever.”
Harris said the $20 trillion national debt must be controlled because its larger than other periods of major debt, such as during the Civil War and World War II. The United States’ new foreign and domestic obligations did not justify the current level of borrowing, Harris said.
Harris said reforms are needed to entitlement programs before they go bankrupt. He said Social Security will be insolvent in 2045.. He said he supports reforms to the ACA and Medicaid, adding “Medicare we’re leaving alone.”
Citing an Oregon study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Harris said patients who use Medicaid do not receive better medical outcomes than those who do not use the federal-state program for the poor and disabled.
Harris answered 30 questions that were written on notecards.
On the issue of Chesapeake Bay cleanup, Harris said “we need to preserve the Chesapeake Bay.” The current federal program hurts Maryland farmers, Harris said.
Harris also said that he supports moving education policy out of the “Federal Triangle” and giving control back to local school districts because they know what’s best.
“Have you been to Alabama,” Wahlgren asked from his seat. “Or Mississippi?”
“How many of you yelling ‘no’ are from Baltimore City,” Harris asked. “You are lucky here, that you don’t have underperforming schools.”
Harris explained that he supported the repeal of nutrition standards in school lunches because his five children and others “don’t want to eat that food.” Food with more vegetables is thrown away by students, Harris said.
When one question accused Harris of taking $3 million in campaign contributions from the telecom industry, the Republican representative dismissed it as “fake news.”
Confronted with a question about why he supported a recent bill that allows internet service providers to sell their customers Internet browsing history to third parties, Harris said that consumers are free to choose an internet provider that does not sell its customer’s history.
“You sold us out Andy,” was the response from one man in the crowd.
The town hall was scheduled to last only one hour, but Harris stayed an extra 15 minutes to answer questions.
“I am surprised he stayed the whole hour,” said Leslie Passano, 62, of Trappe. “I thought he was going to cut it off and just walk off the stage.”
Passano said the First Congressional District experienced “such a loss” when it lost former U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a moderate Republican who serviced nine terms in Congress until losing the 2008 GOP primary to Harris.
Harris lost the general election to Democrat Frank M. Kratovil Jr., but came back to take the seat in the 2010 election.
Deborah J. Dawkins, a local real estate broker, described Gilchrest as “a listener.”
“He [Harris] broke that mold when he ran against Gilchrest in the primary and knocked him out,” Dawkins said.
Despite the hostile crowd Friday night, Harris won re-election last November comfortably, receiving 67 percent of the vote.