Politics & Government

Rep. Vern Buchanan hears from both sides of the aisle in Bradenton town hall meeting

In his first Bradenton town hall of the year, Congressman Vern Buchanan handled comments and concerns from his fervent supporters and those who oppose many of stances.

Guests peppered Buchanan with questions about minimizing red tide, improving Florida’s work force, impeaching President Donald Trump and other topics. About 150 people attended the meeting at the Manatee Performing Arts Center on Saturday afternoon.

The town hall served as a listening tour for Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, who plans to bring some of the ideas and solutions he heard back to his colleagues in Washington, D.C.

“I’d like to get your thoughts on what we should be focused on heading into the session for the next three or four months,” the seven-term Congressman told the audience before kicking off the hour-long Q&A. “I want this to be as productive as we can.”

While the back-and-forth between Buchanan and the audience remained mostly civil, tensions flared a few times when guests spoke out of turn because they felt that Buchanan wasn’t answering their questions directly.

Where does Vern Buchanan stand on impeachment?

In one of those instances, a woman asked whether Buchanan would support impeaching the president. He suggested she take the matter up with another Washington politician.

“You need to check in with Nancy Pelosi because she’s the boss, the Speaker of the House,” Buchanan responded. “The bottom line is that she decides, and she doesn’t think there’s enough evidence in Congress and the American people don’t either.”

Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, speaks at a town hall meeting held in Bradenton on Sept. 9, 2019. He addressed various issues, such as a red tide research, gun control and where he stands on an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

But members of the audience spoke out and continued to press him on his personal position.

“My point with it is that I think he’s done a great job on the economy. Unemployment is lowest, the stock market is at an all-time high, with bigger paychecks. There’s a lot of good things going on, as well,” he added.

Another woman questioned whether Buchanan was concerned with Trump’s plan to invite Russia back into the Group of Seven summit when it is held in Miami next year. In his response, Buchanan said he was “not familiar with that,” but that “you can’t trust Russia.”

The crowd became boisterous again when Buchanan suggested that building the southern border wall would prevent the policy of immigrants being separated from their families. Doug Thomas, a 71-year-old Bradenton resident, was one of the Republican attendees who agreed with Buchanan.

“He stood up for the wall and I really appreciated that,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to see kids hurt or anything bad to happen, but the wall will stop that kind of thing from happening.”

Other Republicans thanked Buchanan for cutting taxes and getting red tide research funded. Buchanan’s office recently announced $1.9 million in federal funding to study the harmful algae bloom at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

Buchanan finds common ground with Democrats

Buchanan also handled comments on the fight for more comprehensive gun control laws, which he supports. Buchanan is one of eight Republicans in the House of Representatives to support the universal background check bill, but the Senate has yet to hold a vote on the matter.

“There’s too much violence,” he said, citing a recent shooting in Odessa, Texas. “We need to work on a bipartisan basis and get that done.”

“I’m still pro-Second Amendment,” Buchanan said in an interview with the Bradenton Herald. “The bottom line is that we can get back in session and have it signed into law. It’s a bipartisan issue.”

One of the best ideas to come out of the meeting, Buchanan said, was a suggestion from Bill Smock, who sits on the Manatee County Planning Commission, who urged Congress to consider placing an emphasis on trade school as an alternative to universities as a means of post-secondary education.

About 150 people attended Rep. Vern Buchanan’s town hall meeting in Bradenton on Saturday afternoon. The seven-term congressman hopes to take some of the ideas back to Washington, D.C. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

Lakewood Ranch resident Robin Procida, a 61-year-old Democrat, moved to the area last year and explained that she attended the town hall to “engage in the political process” and learn Buchanan’s views on a number of subjects.

Several other Democratic voters at the town hall told the Bradenton Herald that climate change is among their chief concerns heading into 2020. Only one question on the subject came up, however, and Buchanan touted his bipartisanship and the fact that he voted against President Trump’s push to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.

“If we don’t work together, nothing happens,” he told the audience. “You’ve got to find a way to get across the aisle.”

Kathleen King, Chairman of the Manatee County Republican Party, commended Buchanan for hosting his 78th town hall meeting since taking office. Buchanan hosted similar meetings earlier this year in Sarasota and Hillsborough counties.

“You could see him taking notes and working on getting this information back to Washington,” King said. “This was a civil discourse.”

Heading into the next session, Buchanan says his top priorities are the economy, ensuring that Social Security is viable in the long term and passing legislation on universal background checks.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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