Across the nation constituents have been going out to congressional town halls and demanding answers from their elected officials. It’s no different here on the Suncoast, except not every congressman is holding a town hall.
One by one protesters filed into Congressman Vern Buchanan’s Sarasota office silently. It was a symbolic gesture because they feel their voices have been silenced.
“We have been here for weeks on end speaking with his staff and nothing has been heard,” said one protester.
Other protesters were much more vocal saying, “I consider him missing in action,” and “don’t be chicken [Buchanan]–show up.”
No matter how they chose to protest, the message was the same. These constituents are accusing Congressman Vern Buchanan of intentionally avoiding constituents by choosing not to hold a town hall meeting during congressional recess week as is often tradition.
“If we can’t be heard then what are we living in?” said protester Theresa Haas. “It’s not a democracy.”
Rep. Buchanan is one of many elected officials nationwide that is feeling the pressure from voters.
Some are putting up newspaper ads making milk cartons with photos of their elected officials. They read, “missing.”
Liberals are using tactics similar to the Tea Party, which grilled democrats during the Obama administration— showing up in large numbers to town halls to push back against the new administration’s policies.
Some GOP leaders say the rowdy crowds could pose a security risk. Others say the meetings are simply not productive.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) says he hasn’t held any town halls or open forums for that very reason. His explanation was captured on a cell phone video.
“Are you going to hold a town hall for us?” asked a constituent of Rubio.
“People get rude,” said Sen. Rubio.
“But then you could hear the people.” said the constituent.
“I’ve heard the people,” said Sen. Rubio.
Buchanan on the other hand is known for regularly holding town hall meetings. His spokeswoman tells us he was unable to hold a meeting in recent weeks, because he was in Afghanistan meeting with Troops who call Florida home.
Buchanan says he fully intends to hold a town hall meeting in the “near future.”
“Since I’ve been serving, I’ve probably done more town halls than any other member of Congress,” said Rep. Buchanan. “I was out of town otherwise I probably would have done a town hall by now. We’re going to have one in the near future. I know there’s a lot of passion, so people have the right to express themselves and I’m going to be there to listen.”
Christian Ziegler is a republican state committeeman and one of Buchanan’s former staffers. He says the congressman has always been accessible.
“Not only town halls, but he does tele-town halls while he’s in D.C. and he does insta-polls and emails,” said Ziegler. “So he’s trying every effort he can to get feedback from constituents.”
But Ziegler says the current conversation is far from productive.
“Unfortunately, what the left is doing is they’re just whining,” said Ziegler. “They’re in the way and they’re whining, so it’s time to remove them and really focus on governing and let the adults govern so we can get some stuff done in this country.”
Former democratic state representative Keith Fitzgerald ran against Congressman Buchanan in 2012. He says “whining” or not, listening to those with differing opinions is part of the job.
“Very few human beings on the face of the earth get to be a member of congress,” said Fitzgerald. “One of the tough parts that comes with it is you have to meet your constituents even when they’re unhappy.
Fitzgerald also likens today’s movement to the Tea Party movement and admits democratic representatives were as flustered by those passionate activists, but he says it is still crucial all voices are heard.
“What they had to do was to muster up the courage to weather that and to talk to these people and listen to these people and that’s exactly what’s called for in this situation and it is a matter of courage.”