BRANDON — State Sen. Ronda Storms, known for her blunt-spoken, hard-shelled, conservative politics, is calling for all voices to be heard on health care reform in "open" and "civil" debate.
The Republican from Valrico said Friday she's hoping to organize a community forum that lets all sides ask questions and get answers that aren't just pro-reform talking points. She hasn't confirmed a date and time.
Storms says the idea occurred to her after learning of the free-for-all that developed at a forum Thursday night in Ybor City put together by state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, and the Service Employees International Union.
Tampa police estimated the forum drew about 1,500 people, far more than the meeting hall could accommodate. Hundreds of protesters attended, their jeers and chants drowning out U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, as she tried to discuss what is being proposed. Those for and against universal health care coverage legislation clashed outside.
Similar bitter showdowns have taken place throughout the country as pro-reform lawmakers head to their home districts to talk up legislation. Conservative media personalities have been aggressively pointing out the locations and encouraging opponents to attend.
Storms said she does not believe those showing up at the meetings are trying to be disruptive per se. She said she believes they are attempting to get answers and are instead being greeted with a sales pitch, which upsets them.
"I'm not sure people really are trying to create chaos," she said. "They are just trying to get answers. I know there are people who want an opportunity to say into the mic, 'this is my concern' and judge for themselves the response."
From what she heard Thursday, organizers were picking and choosing who they let inside, though clearly some opponents gained entry.
Storms did not directly fault Reed or Castor, the latter of whom she frequently clashed with when both were Hillsborough commissioners. Neither could be reached for comment late Friday.
As for her own event, Storms said she intends to invite members of the region's congressional delegation, most of whom are Republican, and both Florida senators, to field concerns and questions. Proponents and opponents would get equal access.
She said she is talking with local political science professors as potential moderators. As possible locations, she named the Florida State Fairgrounds and Sun City Center.
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.