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Boisterous crowd greets Rep. Larsen in Oak Harbor

A man, left, gets ready to storm out of the building because he wanted to ask questions instead of listening to information being presented at a veterans roundtable where Congressman Rick Larsen spoke.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
A man, left, gets ready to storm out of the building because he wanted to ask questions instead of listening to information being presented at a veterans roundtable where Congressman Rick Larsen spoke.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Congressman Rick Larsen was confronted by a boisterous crowd of veterans this morning at the American Legion Hall in Oak Harbor.

Rather than the planned talk about veteran services, the event quickly dissolved into a Q and A about healthcare reform. Many people in the standing-room-only crowd Aug. 6 appeared agitated after a speech by Deputy Director DeAnne Dietrick of the VA Puget Sound Healthcare.

The talk was designed as a roundtable, with speeches from a panel of local experts on veterans issues, but the crowd was worried there would be no time to question Larsen. The congressman needed to leave at noon for a tour of the Jacob Ebey House in Coupeville.

An audience member jumped to his feet and asked, "So you'll eat up all this time with your presentations and won't have time for questions?" during a speech by Dr. David Paul of Skagit Valley College.

Larsen assured there would be, but crowd members weren't convinced. They tried to drown out Paul by clapping him off the stage before he finished his presentation. Another man stormed out of the building.

The other panelists drastically shortened their speeches to under two minutes after further heckling by crowd members.

"Thank you! We want to hear from the congressman," a man in the back of the crowd said.

Larsen said he wanted to ensure plenty of veteran information was presented. During a recent veteran roundtable at the Bellingham American Legion post, the talk also turned to Congress's health care bill.

"In Bellingham, people were upset because people showed up who didn't want to talk about veterans issues," Larsen said.

Many of the questions and comments to Larsen that morning opposed President Barack Obama's health care proposals and crowd members collectively guffawed when Larsen said most of his emails were in support of the bill.

Larsen lessened audience concern after saying that he won't give away his vote until amendments are made to the bill, and that contrary to rumor, he had read the health care bill in its entirety. His staff had even done a word count.

"It's shorter than Harry Potter but it's as dense as Moby Dick," Larsen said. "If someone says they haven't read it, shame on that Congress member."

He asked the audience to bring discreet suggestions about what people would and would not like to see in the bill to a health care forum in Coupeville this evening, hosted by the Whidbey League of Women Voters. The forum starts at 6 p.m. in the Coupeville Rec Hall.

The congressman also stayed half an hour after his scheduled end time to answer more questions.

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