Affordable Care Act

Swampscott Huddle focuses on change

ITEM PHOTO BY DAVID WILSON
Members of the Swampscott Huddle group pose for a photo at the Panera Bread in Vinnin Square.

By DAVID WILSON

SWAMPSCOTT — Abbe Smith is quick to say not everyone in the room is necessarily a Democrat.

There may have been an independent; heck, there may have been a Republican. But looking around, it’s safe to say that any Donald Trump supporter in the room had an incredible amount of restraint.

The Swampscott Huddle — 13 men and women so far — got together Friday night at the Panera Bread in Vinnin Square.

The concept of a huddle was born out of the women’s marches; “a small group of friends, family, neighbors and fellow marchers … and a space to meet” is all that’s necessary, according to the website for the Women’s March on Washington.

The purpose of a huddle, the website says, is to “keep the women’s march spirit alive, build the movement beyond those who marched, and set a concrete plan of action.”

Smith, of Swampscott, said she had planned on being in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20; spending the day watching the inauguration of the country’s first female president. It was a plan that never came.

“I didn’t want to be anywhere near Washington” on that day, she said Friday over a coffee. Instead, she went to Florida. The day after Trump’s inauguration, she was at the women’s march in West Palm Beach.

“One of the reasons the women’s march was so powerful is it wasn’t anti-Republican, it wasn’t partisan and it wasn’t anti-Trump; it was pro-humanist, it was pro-our values, pro-family,” Smith said.

Lynn marchers see hope, but feel doubt

Fear of a Trump presidency was one of the topics that led off the discussion in the back room of the restaurant. We’ve got to make it another three-and-three-quarter years before another election, event organizer and Swampscott resident Brian Felder says.

“I’m not so sure it’s gonna take that long,” one discussion member interjects to laughter. Still, the country will “still have” now-Vice President Mike Pence, another says.  

Felder said people need to be aware “it’s not just that we don’t like (Trump), or we’re scared of him … but we have a damn good reason to be.”

“What are we afraid of?” one member later asks; it’s a question that silences the room for a moment.

Debbie Friedlander of Swampscott said she’s concerned the current administration is becoming, as she puts it, a kleptocracy: a form of government in which officials use their power to steal.

“I really don’t believe (former Exxon Mobil CEO) Rex Tillerson is acting in good faith as secretary of State,” she said. “That’s my greatest fear; there’s no transparency.”

Another question is asked: “What is the thing that hurts us the most?”

A few things, Felder says. “One is the view from the outside of what this country is right now; the other is … (losing) what this country stands for,” he said. “It is really frightening to think of what we’ve already sacrificed in the last 100 days, never mind what we could over the next (three-and-three-quarter years).”

It’s a period that may appear long to some, but this was not a meeting to complain. Members spoke of making phone calls; writing letters — Smith came with stationary — while others flipped through a 15-page contact list for elected officials.

April 15 is coming up. One member mentioned that an act of protest could be to send blank tax forms to the White House; “We want to see your taxes, (Trump),” she says to nods and agreement.

Getting youth involved was another topic touched upon. Their passion and love for their country is something that should be taken advantage of, members said.

“I think young people communicate very different than our age group,” said Friedlander, who is retired. “I also don’t think they associate with political parties, (but it) doesn’t mean they are not politically knowledgeable.”

“I think they see political parties as old-school,” she said. “I think they see it as part of a corporate bureaucracy; and I think they’re very distrustful.”

Felder, a member of the Swampscott Democratic Town Committee, said young voters want elected officials to listen to them.

“We know there are these groups in high schools and in colleges, and would they say they’re lined up with our party? No,” Felder said. “Would they be willing to sit down and talk with us about what would get through to them? Absolutely.”

Smith posed a question to the group: what are your three big concerns under a Trump administration. Could we gather a consensus, she asked.

It wasn’t easy; the “Russia issue” — the country’s alleged involvement in the U.S. election — could prove Trump a traitor, one member said. Other answers ranged from education to climate change; the Affordable Care Act to Tillerson’s role at the State Department.

Friedlander, again, went in on Tillerson. Once the State Department goes, we’re finished; it won’t matter what kind of health care we have, she said.

But under the first months of a Trump presidency, there’s one group most discussion members saved praise for: the press. Members rattled off publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, that, they say hold a spotlight on the administration.

Because without the press, Smith said, the country could fall further “down the rabbit hole.”

The next Swampscott Huddle meeting will be held from 7-9 p.m. Friday, March 24 in the back room of Panera Bread in Vinnin Square.


David Wilson can be reached at dwilson@itemlive.com.

Repeal of Affordable Care Act lamented in Lynn

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
State Senator Thomas M. McGee attended a meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton at Lynn Community Health Center to hear from constituents who are at risk by President Trump’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

By ADAM SWIFT

LYNNU.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass) has been one of the most vocal national critics of President Trump’s new administration, making appearances on the cable networks and sparking debate across the country.

On Saturday morning, Moulton brought a local focus to a national issue, taking part in a roundtable on the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly referred to as Obamacare, at the Lynn Community Health Center.

“It’s an incredibly important issue in the community and in the country, as the Republicans in Washington intend to repeal the ACA but have nothing to replace it with,” said Moulton.

During the hour-long discussion, Moulton heard from about a dozen community members, Lynn Community Health Center staff, and local businesspeople about how they have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act and their fears if it is repealed.

The Lynn Community Health Center serves 39,000 people annually, according to Lori Abrams Berry, the center’s CEO. Before the ACA passed, 40 percent of those people had no insurance. Today, that number is under 15 percent, Berry said.

That increase in the number of patients who have insurance has a huge impact on the ability to run and fund the health center, Berry said.

State Sen. Thomas M. McGee noted how former Governor Mitt Romney laid the foundation for the ACA in Massachusetts.

“It was embraced by the governor at the time and it was not embraced by the Republicans down in Washington, which was pretty interesting,” said McGee. “They were the ones who came up with the mandate so we were able to pay for it. We were able to insure over 96 percent of the people in the Commonwealth, and our challenge with the ACA under attack is what’s it going to mean for what we’ve been able to do to keep the insurance that we have in Massachusetts.”

With a repeal, McGee said Massachusetts could be in line for losses of billions of dollars in health insurance costs. He said the state could be especially hard hit when it comes to emergency room costs.

“From the legislative perspective, we used to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for the patients who didn’t have insurance who went to the emergency room,” McGee said. “All the hospitals were being inundated and we were really struggling with those costs, we were actually subsidizing those costs as a legislature and a Commonwealth into the hospitals that were giving that care. Obamacare has created a great opportunity to bring those costs down, bring people out of the emergency rooms, and find a better way to care for people.”

While the politics of the ACA was never far from everyone’s mind at the roundtable discussion, it was the personal stories that had the greatest emotional impact of the morning.

Deb Debski has been battling a rare autoimmune disease that was destroying her liver and needed a transplant in order to live. While she said she is doing well now, she was in the hospital earlier this week.

“I told my doctor that I had this discussion coming up and that he had to let me out,” Debski said. “I’m very thankful for the Affordable Care Act. I had $17,000 in medications during the past year, and I paid $75.59. These are medications that I need to take twice a day in order to live.”

Debski said she is extremely upset that the ACA could be repealed with nothing to take its place.

“It would be an incredible hardship to decide whether I can eat or take my medicine,” she said.

Moulton said that Democrats in Congress are open to changes in the ACA, and that he is open to changes in the ACA that could improve it.

“But, we can’t just throw it out and not have a replacement,” Moulton said. “That would be disastrous and you clearly heard that from so many people. We want to hear these stories because we care so much about you, we want to be able to say this to our Republican friends in Washington, but I think it is even more powerful when you convey it directly.”

Locals set for Grand Old Trump party

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Alexander “Sandy” Tennant and Sara Appiah prepare for Tennant’s trip to Donald Trump’s inauguration.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

Several North Shore residents are eagerly anticipating attending President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration next week, while others will be protesting by participating in the Boston Women’s March.

Trump is scheduled to be sworn in on Friday, Jan. 20 as the 45th president of the United States. The afternoon ceremony will be followed by an inaugural parade and ball. Other inaugural events are scheduled during the week.

Alexander “Sandy” Tennant, a Swampscott resident and former executive director of the MassGOP, said next week will be his fourth or fifth inauguration. He said it’s great to go down, meet different people from around the country and see those new people heading up government.

Tennant said he wasn’t originally a Trump supporter, but as the field of Republican presidential candidates whittled down, he changed his mind. For his first few months in office, Tennant said he wants to see Trump focus on helping out veterans and improving education.

“I feel the way the majority of Americans do,” Tennant said. “We need a change of direction and Washington just hasn’t been working. Donald Trump certainly appears to be the man to go in and shake things up.”

Moulton faults Trump for delaying VA pick

The Boston Women’s March for America is expected to be an anti-Trump protest, held the day after the new president is sworn in. It’s a sister march for those unable to make the Women’s March on Washington, which is scheduled for the same day. Thousands of people are expected to march in solidarity with communities most affected by the hate, intolerance and acts of violence being perpetuated across the nation, according to a description of the event.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) said she’s planning on joining the march in Boston. She won’t be attending the inauguration, but did say she attended when President Barack Obama was sworn in eight years ago. At the time, she said, her daughters were in their early teens, and over the years, her girls have been able to take many things for granted that Obama promoted, such as women’s equality and fairness.

“We were all able to rest assured that the fate of the nation was in good, capable hands, in spite of all of the divisiveness and racism that he encountered,” Ehrlich said.

But, Ehrlich said the pendulum is about to shift the other way. She said someone’s been elected as the next president who has made fun of a disabled reporter, joked about grabbing a woman’s genitals, and ridiculed people for their sex, race and religion.

“There are really basically two reasons why I’m marching,” Ehrlich said. “First, is to stand united in opposition to the hatred and bigotry which has permeated the political sphere in the run-up to the election. The second reason is to feel the energy from the crowd from those who, like me, have chosen to stand up and object.

“His presidency so far, thankfully hasn’t started yet,” she continued. “Considering that it hasn’t started yet, I would say that our nation is in for a wild ride. He’s taken aim at the nation’s intelligence community and the media, both of which we need for a functioning democracy. I think his appointments, for the most part, they leave much to be desired.”

President Obama says goodbye in tearful speech

Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and her guest will be attending the inauguration thanks to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), who called and asked if the mayor wanted to attend.

“I am absolutely excited,” Kennedy said. “I have never been to a presidential inauguration before. I voted for Trump because the country needed an entirely new direction, that government was getting stale on the national level and somebody had to come in and blow it up.”

Amy Carnevale, a Marblehead resident who serves on the Republican State Committee, is also heading to the inauguration next week. She was a delegate for Trump at the Republican National Convention.

“I’m really excited,” Carnevale said. “I think the inauguration of a new president is a historic moment no matter who the president is. I’m really excited just to be there for it and to play a small part in it that day.”

Carnevale said she’s most excited about seeing the peaceful transfer of power to a new president, which she called a testament to the country’s democracy after a bitterly fought election

For Trump’s first few months, Carnevale said she wants to see Trump focus on how he can improve the economy for all Americans. She said working Americans have too often felt left behind during Obama’s presidency. She also thinks healthcare should be a focus, adding that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has been anything but affordable for most families.

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass) said he’s chartered a train car, and so far, about 68 people from Massachusetts are joining him for the march in Washington. He said the energy and response to the Trump election from the people in the state has been extraordinary. A recent rally in Peabody, he said, drew more than 500 people, who wanted to do something and stand up for the values that were “under assault” from Trump.

Moulton said Trump is “assaulting” some of the fundamental tenets of the country’s democracy, with his “cronies” threatening a reporter for asking a question at the president-elect’s press conference on Wednesday, undermining the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Moulton said in politics, people are going to disagree with those on the other side. He said he disagreed with former President George W. Bush a lot, including on the Iraq War. But, he said he didn’t see Bush trying to undermine the country’s democracy like he views Trump is.

“That’s why this is so serious,” Moulton said. “We’ll show Trump that Americans are going to stand up for our democracy, for our Constitution, for the rule of law.”

Robert Tucker, a member of the Lynn Democratic City Committee and former president of the Lynn City Council, said he’s attending the march in Boston. He said it’s important for Americans to be heard and to watch the incoming administration closely, as what he’s seen so far with Trump has been troubling.

“I want this march to proclaim the rights of women, LGBTQIA and immigrants,” Tucker said. “We can’t let the positive gains we have achieved be destroyed over the next four years. Our nation is facing the prospect of reversing the rights of women and LGBTQIA that we have worked so hard to achieve.

“I want this march to proudly proclaim that America is a nation of immigrants and support the rights of immigrants to achieve their goal of becoming a citizen no matter where they come from or the color of their skin. We need to start on the local and state level to make sure our voices against discrimination are heard in Washington.”


Thomas Grillo contributed to this report. Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Judgement day at Salem State

By Gayla Cawley

SALEM — The future of the Supreme Court is in the hands of the next president.

That was the theme of a lecture given by retired U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner at Salem State University on Thursday.

Gertner, a Yale Law School graduate, was appointed to the federal bench of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts by President Bill Clinton in 1994. She retired in 2011 to teach at Harvard Law School. In 2008, she became only the second woman to receive the Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg was the first.

Justice Antonin Scalia, a long-time conservative judge, died last February at 79, leaving a vacancy on the nine-member bench that has not been filled. Senate Republican leaders have refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, announcing that there would be no vote on Scalia’s replacement until the nation’s next leader, Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump, is elected.

Three of the remaining eight justices are in their 70s and 80s — Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer — meaning that along with Scalia, four justices will likely be replaced in the next presidential administration, Gertner said.

“It’s hard to imagine an election that’s more significant than this one, in terms of the United States Supreme Court,” she said. “Everything you care about…could well be in the balance over the next couple of years. The next president really changes the court.”

Recent major Supreme Court decisions, such as ones surrounding the Affordable Care Act, discrimination, throwing out a life sentence without parole for people under 18, gay marriage and gun control, have been split between the justices, and could be affected with the turnover on the bench in the next administration, Gertner said. The 5-4 decision to allow same-sex marriage is completely at risk when three of the majority members for that vote are replaced, she added.

Gertner said the court is polarized in a way that it has never been before, with the alliances becoming much more predictable in the past 10 to 15 years. In theory, the Supreme Court is supposed to be independent and non-political, she said, but it’s been political since the beginning. Judges have become known for being appointed by either Democratic or Republican presidents. In the United States, political debates often turn into legal debates, she added.

“Otherwise, we fight our battles in court,” she said. “We look to the Supreme Court to resolve issues that are not being resolved in our political institution.”

The Supreme Court is usually not an issue in an election, but it has become one during this particular presidential race, Gertner said.

Tristan Smith, 20, a junior at Salem State University and Swampscott resident, said the discussion provided a unique perspective from a federal judge.

“I think it’s a piece of the election people aren’t thinking about,” he said.

Kalen O’Hare, 19, a sophomore at Salem State and Lynn resident, said the pending replacement of Scalia drew her interest.

“I think that that Supreme Court and the lack of action going on right now is extremely important,” she said.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.