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Civil tone at Willmar roundtable

Marcene Rachael of Paynesville, Minn., sits with her sign Friday during a 7th Congressional District town hall meeting on health care reform in Willmar, Minn. More than 300 people attended the town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who will host another Monday in Bemidji. West Central Tribune Photo/Rand Middleton

WILLMAR, Minn. -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson's health care roundtable Friday in Willmar was a civil affair, mostly.

Certainly, it was a far cry from the raucous meetings -- full of sign waving, shouting and shoving -- that television news shows have shown in other parts of the country.

Perhaps it was an old-fashioned dose of Minnesota Nice. It could have been the heat. Or it might have helped that the large crowd was fairly evenly split between supporters and opponents of health care reform proposals in Congress.

Regardless, even the people who had brought signs didn't wave them much. Most speakers were applauded by one part of the crowd or another. Some speakers were applauded by nearly everyone.

Shouted comments popped up only a few times in a meeting that lasted more than two hours.

The entire crowd joined in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before listening quietly and politely to a panel of speakers. The applause for former Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger was particularly spirited.

Before opening the meeting for questions, Peterson laid out some ground rules for the discussion. People were to line up to speak at a podium and to provide their names and where they were from.

"I'm fair game," he said, "but be respectful of each other."

The mood became unpleasant, quickly and briefly, when the first person at the podium began to read a lengthy statement. Several people shouted, "What's the question?"

But just as quickly, the room righted itself. Soon people were listening intently and applauding for questions and answers they liked as a long line of people waited their turn to speak.

The strongest reaction came when a woman mentioned end-of-life care. There was some applause, but others started shouting their opposition to the idea. Some others shouted, "Get in line," to those speaking out of turn.

Peterson tried to explain over the shouts from the audience that a provision for physicians to speak with Medicare recipients about end-of-life care has been in law since 1992. The current discussion is about reimbursing doctors for having the conversation.

The subject has received "too much emphasis," he said, and is apparently being removed from the bill.

Retha Dooley, the Todd County resident who brought up the subject, left the meeting shortly afterward. She had expected the response she got and didn't have a big problem with it, she said.

Dooley said she felt it was important to stand up and say what she believed and to respect others who do the same.

Linda Vanderwerf is a staff writer for the West Central Tribune of Willmar, which is a Forum Communications Co. newspaper, which also owns the Bemidji Pioneer.