TAMPA -- A meeting to advise people about their federal benefits was calm and quiet Friday despite calls by the local Republican Party for members to go and protest the Affordable Care Act.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who organized the event, is one of the health care law's strongest proponents. In 2009, she organized a town hall meeting that was interrupted by shouting and shoving when opponents bused hundreds of people in to protest Obamacare
But at the Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library on Friday, most of the crowd of 75 or so who showed up were there for one-on-one meetings with Castor or her staff members to discuss problems with federal agencies.
Two local conservative political activists, Tom Rask and Sharon Calvert, were there to speak to Castor about their opposition to the ACA, asking her to work with Republicans in Congress who are determined to repeal it.
Calvert also wanted to urge Castor to support the controversial TBX plan for redesigning interstate highways in Tampa.
But most attendees were there for reasons like those of James Gordon, a Tampa welder who recently found himself with custody of his two grandchildren following the death of his daughter. He said he hopes for federal assistance with housing, but has been told that because he has a job, he's not eligible for most programs.
Jennifer Incontrera of Tampa, who home-schools her 8-year-old daughter Isabella, wanted her to meet a female Congress member.
"She could be in politics one day," Incontrera said. "I want her to see a role model, and when she's old enough, I hope she'll fully participate in our democracy."
James and Linda Palmer of Tampa, both on Medicare, said they were there because of sharp increases in the costs of medication, and fear that if the ACA is repealed, it will re-open the "doughnut hole" in Medicare coverage of drugs.
Castor sat in individual meetings with attendees but didn't appear before the full crowd.
The local GOP sent an email to members Thursday urging them to attend "a great opportunity to tell her … your disappointment" on stances by Castor, including her votes against ACA repeal and against H.R. 7, a bill that would outlaw coverage of abortions under multi-state health insurance plans such as those sold through ACA exchanges.
Castor said Rask and Calvert were the only attendees who argued for ACA repeal.
"The overwhelming number are worried … that it will pull the rug out from under them," she said. "I'm not hearing from our neighbors that ACA repeal is a priority."