‘We the people are his boss.’ Local groups call on Vern Buchanan to hold public town hall

Emotions flare as Buchanan talks health care, Trump at town hall

Emotions were high as supporters and opponents question Rep Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, on health care and actions by President Donald Trump's administration.
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Emotions were high as supporters and opponents question Rep Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, on health care and actions by President Donald Trump's administration.

Members of local political groups gathered outside of Representative Vern Buchanan’s Bradenton and Sarasota offices on Monday night to demand that he hold a district-wide town hall meeting to address what they call a “Constitutional crisis” in federal government following the release of the Mueller Report.

Demonstrators in Manatee County said that Buchanan’s recent public input sessions have been too small, too infrequent and not publicized far enough in advance.

“He doesn’t get a chance to hear from all of his constituents,” said Jenni Casale, a retired teacher from Palmetto. “How can he know what we need or want until he listens to us?”

Buchanan’s last large-scale town hall meeting was held in March 2017 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The venue was packed to capacity, and there were some tense exchanges with crowd members.

Since then, Buchanan has shied away from such large gatherings.

About 30 demonstrators, including members of progressive political groups Action Together Suncoast, Indivisible East Manatee, Indivisible Northeast Sarasota and Indivisible CD-16, stood at the corner on Manatee Avenue West, waved signs and broke into chants of “town hall now.”

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Demonstrators with local political groups gathered in front of Vern Buchanan’s Bradenton office on May 20, 2019, to demand that he hold a district-wide town hall to discuss the findings of the Mueller Report. Ryan Ballogg rballogg@bradenton.com

Liv Coleman, a political science professor and former candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, spoke to the crowd over a megaphone before handing out free copies of the Mueller Report.

“We have a lot we need to talk about,” Coleman said, citing concerns about President Donald Trump and democratic accountability of lawmakers.

Coleman also visited Buchanan’s office to put in another formal request for a district-wide town hall.

Casale also spoke, saying “When Buchanan took that oath of office, he pledged to do what was best for his district. And that includes everyone — not just those who voted for him. We the people are his boss.”

Not all of her speech was critical — Casale commended Buchanan for breaking ranks to vote with Democrats to prevent President Trump from pulling from the 2015 Paris Agreement regarding climate change.

Casale also noted that Buchanan’s office sends out frequent surveys asking for voter input.

“It’s not obvious that he does anything with them though,” Casale said.

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Supporters of President Donald Trump waved signs and flags outside of Representative Vern Buchanan’s Bradenton office on May 20, 2019. Ryan Ballogg rballogg@bradenton.com

A group of about 10 counter-demonstrators also appeared outside of the courthouse to voice their support for Buchanan and President Trump.

Kevin Wright said that he heard that there was going to be an anti-Trump protest and wanted to show his support and passion for the president.

Wright said that while he is happy with Buchanan’s representation, he is not opposed to the idea of a public town hall.

“He represents them, he represents us. Give it a shot,” Wright said. “That’s democracy.”

Caroline Wetherington with Women for Trump Sarasota Manatee said that she has not had any issue making contact with Buchanan to voice concerns.

“I’ve called his office several times. We also arranged a meeting and he spent about 45 minutes with us. They just want to yell at him in public and embarrass him,” Wetherington said of the protestors.

Those calling for a district-wide town hall said that Buchanan’s recent public events have been promoted to his political supporters but not to all constituents.

After the 2017 gathering at Van Wezel, Buchanan was positive about the experience despite receiving some public criticism.

“People need to be heard,” Buchanan told the Bradenton Herald after the town hall. “I tell people I’m humbled to be a congressman, but at the end of the day it’s about being a representative, and you can’t represent someone if you’re not listening.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Buchanan spokesman Anthony Cruz said: “Vern has already held two town halls this year and will let people know when we schedule another.”

The most recent town hall, held in February in Sarasota, was publicized in one local newspaper and on one local news network, Cruz said.

However, many constituents interested in attending did not appear to have gotten the message.

“I follow him online and by email and heard nothing about this,” commented Sarasota resident Jenni Hyman on a Facebook video of the town hall.

“I’m definitely on Vern’s email list because I get those endless and inane opinion polls,” commented Sue Maloney. “So why did his staff not use that same email list to send out a notification of this town hall?”

Others commenters expressed similar concerns.

Buchanan’s first town hall of 2019 was held in January at SouthShore Regional Library in Ruskin, where a capacity crowd of 120 people attended.

Cruz also responded to demonstrators concerns over the Mueller Report on behalf of Buchanan.

“The Mueller Report found no collusion by President Trump or his campaign and brought no charges of obstruction,” Cruz said in an email. “It’s time for the country to move on.”