LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- Safeway shoppers vied with a long line of citizens hoping for a word with their congressman Saturday morning.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter
held the first "Government at the Grocery" event at a major supermarket since a gunman killed six people and severely wounded U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords and a dozen others in Tucson, Ariz.,
on Jan. 8. Several Lakewood police officers, Safeway security officers and Safeway executives milled about as a line of people wound past Starbucks to the store entrance. More than 100 people showed up for the event; 80 individuals or families signed up to speak and Perlmutter extended the two-hour event by more than 90 minutes to accommodate some 35 individuals or groups.
"It's great to see you all," Perlmutter told the crowd about 15 minutes after he started meeting with constituents. "We'll try to get everybody, five minutes at a time."
Rebecca Morales of Aurora came to ask Perlmutter to sign on as a sponsor of an effort to increase funding for pancreatic cancer research and education.
"He supported us last year," she said.
Helen Cook of Lakewood said she wanted to tell her congressman that "Obama is not king." She said she's upset about the president's opposition to the federal law prohibiting gay marriage, as well as immigration policy and health care reform. Elle Huber wanted Perlmutter's advice on whether she should continue her lifelong allegiance to the Republican Party.
"There's one thing I agree with them and that's illegal aliens," she said.
Then there was Mike Skaggs, who survives on Social Security disability and veteran's assistance payments.
"I'm concerned about the government shutting down," said the Arvada man. "I'm a disabled veteran. If they shut down, what's going to happen to people like me?"
Wearing a maroon shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Perlmutter took 40 pages of notes using a stylus on his iPad, while five staffers alternated sitting next to him. Safeway and Starbucks workers offered up free samples, as well as a sheet cake, to the citizens waiting their turn.
Like Giffords, the grocery store meetings with constituents are standard fare for Perlmutter -- he's held more than 70 since taking office in suburban Denver's 7th Congressional District in 2007. His next event will be March 12, although a location hasn't been arranged.
Later, he noted that Giffords recommended the Penultimate
iPad app during a conversation the day before her shooting. At Saturday's event, Perlmutter collected get-well cards to send to Giffords.
"She's made unbelievable progress, but it was a terrible wound," he said. "She has a couple hundred word vocabulary and she's singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" as part of her rehab."
Skaggs and others at the event said they weren't concerned about their safety Saturday, a point confirmed by Perlmutter.
"Probably every other person said 'Thank you for doing this, we know what happened in Tucson and we appreciate you doing this,' " he said after the event.
Mostly, though, people wanted to talk about government's role in their lives.
"We talked about immigration, both pro-immigration and anti-immigration," Perlmutter said. "We talked a lot about jobs. We talked a lot about the deficit and debt and various ideas... You name it, we talked about it."
Huber got to see her congressman after waiting about 75 minutes.
"He said I could stay in the Republican Party as long as I speak up in the primaries and at the caucuses," she said after her chat.
Skaggs came away with a business card from the staff member who helps veterans: "I have an in now."
Perlmutter objected heartily when Cook offered her opinion that the health care reform act outlaws home-schooling.
"Don't get buffaloed," he said. "That ain't true."
As she left the store, Cook noted, "I'm going to have to do some research on that to find out what's going on."
Morales' meeting ended with Perlmutter's support for the pancreatic cancer research effort.
"We're on it, don't worry," he told her.
Was the 2.5 hour wait worth it for Morales?
"Definitely," she said.