POSEYVILLE -- It had been two hours of shouts, interruptions, jeers and hoots of derision, much of it aimed at 8th District Rep. Larry Bucshon -- but it was Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) who took on a raucous crowd Saturday.
The morning event, a "Legislative Cracker Barrel" session Saturday at the Poseyville Community Center, was near its end. Tomes lamented that the session had devolved into an "all-out, drag-out war" because people repeatedly shouted without waiting their turns to ask questions.
Interrupted throughout his soliloquy, Tomes struggled to get out the words.
Then the veteran state legislator said the magic word, a word indelibly associated with similar scenes that have played out at rowdy town hall meetings across the country. There was a time, Tomes said, when people "didn't go out and disrupt meetings like this."
That sparked an explosion of shouts and hoots from the room of more than 100 people.
It was that kind of morning. The legislative session, hosted by the Posey and Vanderburgh County farm bureaus and the Southwest Indiana Chamber, included Tomes and Reps. Wendy McNamara, Holli Sullivan and Tom Washburne.
It also included five uniformed Posey County sheriff's deputies and Poseyville Town Marshal Charles Carter, who collectively ringed the room. When Bucshon took a quick bathroom break as one of the legislators spoke, a deputy entered the men's room behind him.
The cacophony of dissent wasn't unexpected.
Supporters of Indivisible Evansville -- affiliated with what Bucshon called a "national liberal organization" -- said they would show up to put tough questions to the Republican congressman. Bucshon, in turn, pointed to a guide issued by Indivisible that advises supporters around the country to record their interactions with lawmakers because, "unfavorable exchanges caught on video can be devastating for (members of Congress)."
The group is fiercely opposed to Republican President Donald Trump, and its local supporters sprinkled denunciations of the still-new president throughout their questions and comments Saturday. But they may not represent the sentiment of local voters. While Trump would have lost a straw poll at Saturday's session in a landslide, he won Posey County in November's election with 67 percent of the vote.
It was a point Washburne, a Republican, made to one man who intimated that the Legislature's GOP super-majorities are the result of gerrymandering. Indiana voters prefer Republican candidates, Washburne said, because Indiana is a conservative state. He added pointedly that it isn't possible to gerrymander entire states -- and Indiana voted Republican in all statewide races last year.
Issues-wide, it was health care that divided Bucshon from the crowd.
The 8th District congressman, a former heart surgeon who once served as chief of cardiothoracic surgery and medical director of the open heart recovery intensive care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital, supports the GOP American Health Care Act bill that would repeal Obamacare. He argues that Obamacare's "big government mandates and costly taxes" and high premiums make it unsustainable and intrusive. The law is failing, he says.
But members of Saturday's audience called for single-payer national health insurance and the "Medicare for all" proposal championed by 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. All U.S. residents would be covered for any necessary services.
Critics have likened the proposal to socialism. Bucshon said Saturday that it would create "an almost unsustainable financial situation."
"My concern with the single-payer system is, you're putting all the entire payment system on a federal bureaucracy," he said.
Bucshon posed a series of questions to his audience.
"Does anyone in here think the federal government runs all their programs well?" he said.
"Big business don't either," one man shot back. A woman in the crowd answered Bucshon's concern about costs with one word: "taxes."
But Bucshon asked if audience members had thought it through.
"Does everyone in this room who goes to work want to have their Medicare, their FICA tax, triple?' he said.
'If it gives health care for everybody, absolutely," one man shot back.