Viktoria Davis of Madelia is frustrated with insurance companies.
As the only optometrist in the area, she’s concerned about how dramatically different her reimbursements can be, even from people who live in the same town. According to her, one kind of service can either bring her $186 under the best-paying insurance or $76.50 under a low-paying insurance.
“I am obligated, both morally and professionally, to provide the exact same service to these patients,” Davis told Congressman Jim Hagedorn, R-1st District, Wednesday night. “How is that fair to either me or to my patients?”
Davis was among more than 60 residents divided over Hagedorn’s positions on everything from President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry to veterans services at a town hall in Madelia. Hagedorn’s stop in Watonwan County was the eighth in-person town hall since the Blue Earth Republican started a 21-county town hall series in June.
Hagedorn faced questions and scrutiny over his positions on Trump, immigration, renewable fuels and health care, among other issues. He also addressed concerns over gun violence, gun rights and veterans affairs.
Several people, like Davis, stood up to challenge Hagedorn’s thoughts during a question-and-answer period. Davis told Hagedorn she supported a single-payer health insurance system, which Hagedorn dismissed as a potential hazard to U.S. health care.
“We can’t sustain medicine, the quality of medicine that we have in this country, if we’re taking money out of the system,” Hagedorn said.
Other residents, including Pat Branstad of St. James, said they were concerned Hagedorn and other Congress members weren’t holding Trump accountable for potential abuses of power he committed by asking the Ukrainian government to investigate a political rival in former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
Branstad asked Hagedorn why he wasn’t concerned by the White House’s refusal to cooperate with House investigations into the Ukraine affair, as well as other potential instances of wrongdoing. Hagedorn pointed out House Democrats haven’t formally begun impeachment proceedings, which the House usually votes on and refers to a committee.
“There’s no special powers that have been granted the committees to subpoena things,” Hagedorn said. “It’s going to go to court, where a court will probably say, ‘Yeah, somebody has to show.’”
Hagedorn reaffirmed his stance that trying to impeach Trump is a political move rather than a serious effort to address wrongdoing in the White House. He later defended Trump’s actions in the Ukraine scandal by saying he hasn’t seen anything Trump has done during his presidency that could be considered high crimes and misdemeanors.
“You know it when you see it, and when something happens, you’ll know it when you see it,” Hagedorn said. “And thus far in this process, I haven’t seen it.”
Hagedorn said he believes Democrats have tried to impeach Trump since he took office.
Watonwan County Commissioner Jim Branstad, husband to Pat, questioned what Congress would do if the U.S. deported its estimated 11 million undocumented residents. Branstad pointed out rural counties like Watonwan rely on undocumented labor.
“Our workforce in this country, in terms of agriculture and food industry, are dependent upon 11 million people who are not documented in this country,” Branstad said. “If we were to deport all 11 million people, what would it do to the economic vitality of our county, and of this state and of this nation?”
Hagedorn and Branstad agreed the U.S. should reform its immigration practices, but appeared to differ on how that should be done. Hagedorn said the U.S. should revamp its E-Verify system to check on a worker’s immigration status, as well as look into biometrics — matching images of workers to their legal status in a registry.
“Then we’ll know who’s here and working legally and lawfully,” he said.
Residents had mixed feelings after the meeting. Hagedorn supporters say the representative handled questions well despite being interrupted by some audience members, while critics say they felt Hagedorn simply spoke in talking points and tried to deflect blame on Democrats, past presidents and other countries concerning U.S. policy.
“I was really surprised how disrespectful people were,” Greg Bartz of rural Sleepy Eye said.
Bartz felt audience members were too loud at times and too argumentative, attempting to embarrass Hagedorn rather than engage on the issues.
“We hear about how people are supposed to get together even though they have different political beliefs,” Bartz said. “Why can’t we talk? The liberals talk about tolerance and why can’t we tolerate people, but I find the intolerant ones are liberals.”
Bartz said he was pleased with the way Hagedorn engaged residents, even with people who didn’t support his politics.
“He’s not afraid to say what he believes regardless of who he’s in front of,” Bartz said.
Another supporter who declined to give his name said he felt Hagedorn was doing the best he could to represent southern Minnesota in Washington, D.C., but other constituents didn’t understand how government worked and were pushing for political solutions to issues such as immigration that weren’t legal.
Pat Branstad said after the forum she had never attended a congressional town hall before, but she was disappointed in the format. She felt it wasn’t so much a discussion as a chance for Hagedorn to push political talking points rather than engage on policy issues.
“What bothered me was the amount of finger-pointing he did at either other Congresses, other presidents, other people, to deflect from not having an answer on what he was going to do,” she said.