Did Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) sick the cops on a group of health care reform organizers? That's what the Service Employees International Union is claiming. The group had received permission to gather at the Nebraska Medical Center to meet Johanns who was scheduled to appear at a roundtable discussion on health care--but Johanns apparently wasn't interested.
"SEIU along with teachers and members of the military set up a table with apple pie and signs welcoming the Senator and urging him to support an American solution to healthcare reform," noted Jane Kleeb, SEIU State Director. "Instead of coming by and saying hello, the Senator walked right by us as we were surrounded by police and said 'good luck with that.'"
Johann's staff, however, portrays things rather differently. They contend that the organizers were confronted by hospital security and asked to move their protest off hospital grounds. They also deny complaining--either to the police, or to hospital security--about the protesters' presence, and say the roundtable proceeded, with Kleeb's participation, after the controversy was resolved.
Those are two very different versions of events, obviously. We'll try to tease out exactly what went down.
Late update: It's certainly worth pointing out that Jane Kleeb is the wife of Scott Kleeb, who was Johanns' opponent in the 2008 election for Chuck Hagel's old Senate seat.
Late, late update: I just got off the phone with Jane Kleeb who stuck to her version of events and provided more details. According to Kleeb, she and about 10 other advocates set up out front with two home made signs--one which read 'Sen. Johanns, we can't wait' and one which read 'Health care '09, we can't wait'. She says that soon thereafter four cars rolled up--both medical center security and Omaha police. According to Kleeb, the police waited in their cars while she spoke with hospital security officers, who told her that Johanns' staff had indeed called to complain about the protest.
According to an email Kleeb provided from the hospital, "[e]xternal groups can distribute literature on public sidewalks, so long as they are not obstructing pedestrian or vehicle traffic, and do not interfere with those entering and exiting the buildings." Kleeb says she and the group gathered on a walkway several feet from the medical center's doors, but that security moved them to the other side of a barrier about several feet further from the entrance.