BRADENTON -- U.S. Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, took notes and listened closely to concerned citizens at a listening session held at Manatee's Judicial Center on Friday.
More than 50 Manatee and Sarasota residents filled the jury assembly room to ask the congressman about gun control, the deficit, unemployment and immigration reform, among other issues facing Americans.
No issue seemed to hit home Friday more than the economy. Attendees spoke of unemployment, flailing small businesses and the effect on the retired community.
Jean Walker of Sarasota, a former financial analysis in
Lakewood Ranch, told the congressman she had been through 23 job interviews within the past year. At age 61, she said it's difficult to find a employment in today's job market and suggested Washington make companies who layoff employees older than 55 pay their full salaries as unemployment benefits due to the difficulty of finding a new job.
One retired resident said 90 percent of his savings have been affected by the fluctuating stock market while a worker with the U.S. Postal Service's Manasota Processing and Distribution Center asked the congressman to step in and save the center from being closed. The center will be consolidated with a Fort Myers office, which will eliminate 100 jobs.
Others blamed Washington for the nation's money troubles.
"Why don't you give yourselves a little less money," one woman said. "That would help the budget, don't you think?"
"Why can't Washington do what every household has had to do?" another said.
Buchanan said the country's financial woes stem from an inability to pay bills.
"This is all catching up to us," he said. "We've been living beyond our means for the last four or five years. You can't continue to do that."
The veteran politician assured those in attendance that he was working to help change the climate of the economy and shared ideas that would stimulate the economy and create jobs, such as transportation projects and aiding small businesses.
"Energy production can create tens of thousands of jobs in our country," Buchanan said. "The Keystone pipeline, there's no reason not to do that."
Another popular topic at the listening session was gun control.
Fearing further mass shootings, like the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, some audience members asked Buchanan about banning assault weapons. Others in the audience used their time to disagree. They said the senseless killings were the product of mental health issues, drug use and violent video games and movies.
"I think we need a serious conversation," said Buchanan, who added he is pro-Second Amendment rights. "Obviously, the president has introduced a bill and Harry Reid in the Senate said he's going to bring a bill to the floor, but this needs to be clearly looked at."
Buchanan said Washington needs to look deeply into how violent video games and movies desensitize children.
Friday's listening session lastly roughly an hour, but Buchanan stayed for an extended period of time to answer more questions on a one-on-one basis. Buchanan, who was re-elected to a fourth term in November, said he would take the audience's comments back to Washington.
Ultimately, Buchanan said America's debt woes won't be fixed until both political parties work together to find a solution.
"In terms of Manatee and Sarasota County and our state, I do feel a sense that things are getting better, but we've got this dark cloud hanging over us, this thing called deficit, that in my opinion we can't afford to keep putting off," he said.
Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams.