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If Comer sticks to his schedule, he'll vote for the AHCA today and meet constituents tomorrow

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By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Some western Kentucky Democrats wonder about the timing of their Republican congressman’s next town hall-style meeting.

Freshman Rep. James Comer of Tompkinsville is scheduled to huddle with constituents in Paducah tomorrow. The House is set to vote today on the GOP’s alternative to the Affordable Care Act.

Comer’s office announced the congressman’s town hall schedule on March 13. Four days later, CNN reported that the House would vote on the American Health Care Act on March 23.

Democrats in Comer’s district wonder why he didn’t reschedule the town hall ahead of the vote to get constituent input.  Even if the venue—the Commerce Center Community Room—were booked, surely his staffers could have found some equally suitable meeting hall, they argue.

Perhaps, too, he figured that if the AHCA passes, foes of the measure would be so discouraged that they wouldn’t bother to show up and protest.   

Democrats also suggest that the congressman must have known the House GOP leadership wanted a vote on March 23, the seventh anniversary of President Obama signing the ACA into law. 

Anyway, the Tea Party Express-endorsed Comer supports the AHCA. He flew to Louisville on Air Force One with the president on Monday, when Trump fired up the faithful at a Falls City rally.  

Comer said he’ll back the bill “despite lingering concerns about how it will affect the large number of expanded Medicaid recipients he represents, because his constituents clearly want him to side with Trump,” wrote Politico’s Shane Goldmacher.

Daniel Hurt, Leslie McColgin, Tommy Waldrop, Ken Wolf and Sarah Gutwirth are Democrats who side with neither Trump nor Comer though both Republicans carried all 34 counties in the district, which sprawls westward from the Mississippi River to south-central Kentucky.

“I think it's really interesting that our congressman is waiting until after his highly controversial vote before he asks his constituents what they think,” said Hurt, who lives in Grand Rivers and chairs the Livingston County Democratic Executive Committee. “I thought you consulted your voters before votes, but that's just me. Maybe civics class is wrong.”

Hurt also posited that Comer stuck with his schedule for fear of encountering protesters like the ones that greeted GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on recent meetings in Lawrenceburg and in Jeffersontown, a suburb of Louisville, his hometown.

More than a few opponents of the AHCA plan to attend the Friday town hall, which starts at 10 a.m., local time. Seating is limited and those who can’t get in plan to protest outside.   

“He escapes the wrath of people before the vote but will still get hammered after it,” predicted McColgin, a member of the Graves County Democratic committee. “It's clear from his statement he thinks if people voted for Trump they want him to support whatever Trump supports, but I don't think that's a gimme.”

While a Republican has held the district seat since 1994, McColgin, who lives near Lowes, believes a vote for the AHCA will hurt Comer at the polls in 2018. “He seems to be want to be seen as a ‘go along’ Republican in the new Congress.”

But she conceded that Comer maybe thinks “this district is so red they won't boot him out and so he's willing to take the constituent anger now. And it's clear he is willing to put party over people--his constituents.”

McColgin would bet Comer has received more phone calls against the AHCA than for it. “He needs to be asked what the call ratio has been for this district.”

Waldrop, a Mayfield resident who chairs the Graves Committee, said his group “discussed this ironic timing of ‘constituent services’” at their monthly meeting Tuesday night.

“Hard to figure--Comer's early and adamant promise to vote for this thing. This way, he looks like a [House Speaker Paul] Ryan-Trump-[Kentucky Gov. Matt] Bevin sycophant.”  

Murray Democrat Wolf opposes the AHCA, but he’s glad the Republicans are rushing the measure. “When people act quickly, they make more mistakes. Passing this now may turn voters against both Ryan and Trump, since he is supporting Ryan on this.”

Hurt plans to be at the town hall “to test the temperature.” Murray Democrats Gutwirth and Peter Murphy can’t attend. She said she and her spouse are sorry they won’t be able to call “Comer a cowardly hypocrite to his face.”

The Paducah meeting is the first of 11 town halls planned for the district through April 19. Of course, the AHCA may fail to pass Thursday, or the GOP may reschedule the vote.

Anyway, Comer’s website reflects his confidence that cozying with Trump is smart politics in western and south-central Kentucky, arguably the reddest regions in the Red State Bluegrass State.

The website brags that on the trip to and from Louisville “the congressman spoke at length with the president about health care in the first district” and that Trump twice mentioned him in his speech.

The website has a photo of a happy Comer standing next to a smiling Trump giving a thumbs-up. The two are on the presidential jet.   

“It was an honor to ride with President Trump on Air Force One,” the website quoted Comer. “We had a very productive discussion. The first district is a rural district, and I want to make sure my constituents get the best possible health care. I want to thank the president for working to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

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-- Berry Craig of Mayfield, where he was born and reared, is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. He is a member of the Graves County Democratic Executive Committee, the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Executive Committee and the author of a half dozen books on Bluegrass State history including True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo.