KARE: Franken finds fans and foes friendly at fair
KARE 11 chronicles some of the interactions between Sen. Franken and constituents at the Minnesota State Fair.
FALCON HEIGHTS, MN -- In a television newsroom somewhere in America a TV news producer dreams of a Democratic Senator on his heels over health care, turning and running through the state fairgrounds being jeered by angry mobs and pelted with corn dogs.
That place isn't Minnesota. And that senator isn't Al Franken.
The state's newly minted junior U.S. Senator on Monday strolled through the Minnesota State Fair fully prepared to defend health care reform and to engage in civil discussions with both fans and foes. Even those who seemed most frightened by the prospect of a health system overhaul maintained friendly demeanors.
"I know you've got a lot of admirers," one woman cautioned Franken in a quiet calm voice, "But in the real world you've got to hear from those that are not supporting this health care bill."
"Thank you," Franken politely replied, "I'm also hearing from people who are supporting it who are also from the real world."
Many of the detractors were retirees convinced the so-called "public option" will be public assistance program, and that the government won't be able to run another health system.
"Don't vote for that public option in the welfare, er, health care," one such woman told Franken, "We've got wonderful health care as it is."
"Do you have Medicare?" Franken queried.
"And you know that's a public program?" he asked.
Supporters have described the public option concept as a premium-based health coverage which will be designed to compete with private plans. They cite the US Postal System as an example of a self-supporting entity. With no federal appropriations since 1982 it goes head to head with UPS, Federal express and other viable parcel delivery companies.
"It's very hard to compete against the government, when the government writes the bills, changes the bills, and has all that money to spend," another opponent told Franken.
Franken clarified that the public option's not designed to be taxpayer funded on an permanent basis.
"The government would fund it to establish it, but the way the bill's written it would not be able to get money from the government after that," he explained.
Two constituents expressed said they'd heard the overhaul will trigger deep cuts to Medicare. Franken told them that's a reference to savings that would be achieved through proposed reforms aimed at eliminating waste and excessive procedures in states that don't enjoy the coordinated care models used in Minnesota.
"If the rest of the country did everything like Minnesota, any version of these bills would be paid for already in savings."
The majority of those who greeted Franken at the fair while KARE followed him congratulated the senator on his long deferred election victory, and encouraged him to fight for health reform on Capitol Hill.
"We really want the public health option to be part of the thing, if not single payer," a constituent told Franken, "We want the Republicans to be working with you but otherwise go it alone."
An Arden Hills man, who said he's been happy with his Medicare coverage, implored Franken, "Please don't let them compromise away a federal option on that health care bill. I trust the government a heck of a lot more than I trust the insurance companies."
Franken said he won't settle for anything less than universal health care, which would protect people from being bounced from plans when they get sick or having coverage denied based on pre-existing conditions.
"Right now with all those job changes and people without jobs that pre-existing condition thing is a huge hang-up," one woman told the senator, "So we got to try to fix that."
Another added, "We're on your side. We trust you with our health care."
"It's ridiculous to have children without health care," a Minneapolis woman, with three children in tow, remarked.
"These guys are lucky, but a lot of kids aren't. We want to make sure that all their classmates can see their doctors."
"We need to get meaningful health care reform," Franken answered, "And we will get it. I promise."