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A town hall in Savannah, Ga., tests its reputation for civility

 (Jenny Jarvie / Los Angeles Times)
(Jenny Jarvie / Los Angeles Times)

The boos began as soon as Rep. Buddy Carter, a two-term Republican representing a staunchly conservative stretch of coastal Georgia, tried to present his plans to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“You know about the promises and you know about the reality,” Carter told constituents who packed a town hall meeting in Savannah on Tuesday, noting that healthcare premiums had gone up by $4,300 for the average family. "Look, folks, Obamacare is collapsing."

“You collapsed it!” one man in the audience shot back as the crowd roared.

More than 300 people, many wearing Planned Parenthood T-shirts and waving pink and purple paper hearts, squeezed into an auditorium at Armstrong College for the standing-room-only event. Outside, scores more chanted, "Let us in!"

Throughout, the meeting tested this traditional Southern town’s reputation for gentility, with some members of the crowd jeering and crying, “Shame on you!" while others pleaded for quiet.

“If you’ve got something to say, use your manners and raise your hand,” one Trump supporter burst out.

“Why don’t YOU raise your hand?” a man across the room hollered back.

The crowd’s concerns ran the gamut from rising sea levels and Russia’s influence in U.S. politics to abortion access, President Trump’s attacks on the news media and the teaching of religion in public schools. Some needled Carter for his support of Trump, with one man asking if he stood by a president who had not released his tax returns.

“I am not here to tell you Donald Trump is perfect,” Carter responded. “I am not going to tell you I agree with everything he has done. Those of you who have studied the Bible know that God has used imperfect people to do great things.”

Yet it was Republicans’ plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act that caused the most ire. A local owner of a small jewelry business told Carter that if the act had not been in effect when he had major abdominal surgery a few years ago, he may have had to lay off an employee.

“Look, for every story like this there are 20 stories that are just the opposite,” said Carter, a pharmacist. As Republicans developed a more affordable and accessible healthcare alternative, the new plan would be rolled out incrementally, he said. Health coverage would not be denied because of preexisting conditions, he added.

“These are divisive times,” Carter finally admitted, reminding his audience that “we live in the greatest country in the world.” But even that could not bring agreement. The meeting ended with a chorus of “No!”

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