Charlie Crist fields questions for nearly four hours at his first town hall meeting - Florida Politics

Charlie Crist fields questions for nearly four hours at his first town hall meeting

In the weeks since Donald Trump and the Republican Party have taken complete control control of Washington D.C., congressional town hall meetings around the nation have been marked by vitriol, confrontation and anger.

Those elements were decidedly not present at Charlie Crist’s town hall meeting held on Saturday at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus. Instead, it was a veritable love fest, with the mostly liberal crowd calling on Crist to hold the new regime accountable, as well as asking him to help guide them on what they could do to slow down the Trump administration.

“It’s not Democrats, Republicans or independents,” the freshman U.S. Representative said when asked who could bring the greatest pressure on Trump and the GOP agenda. “It’s Americans on Americans, encouraging these people in Washington to get to the truth. The more you do it, the more it’s going to happen.”

The St. Petersburg Democrat showed Springsteenian stamina in his first town hall, taking questions for nearly four hours before a crowd that started out over 500 people strong.

As he said last weekend in a community in South St. Petersburg, Crist wants an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the ties between the Trump administration and Russian officials. He said former Secretary of State Colin Powell would be an ideal personality to lead that panel.

He received a standing ovation when he said that he has called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign after it was reported that he met with Russian officials after saying he had not done so during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing. But Crist said it was important “not to take the eye off the ball” on what was really important.

“The real issue to me in this whole Russian imbroglio, if you will, is what did they do? What did they hack? What did they cyberattack? And why did they do it? And who did they do it for? And who did they talk to about it before it was done?” he asked.

Crist said he was angered by the reports because he “loves democracy,” and what happened in this case “has the opportunity to shatter the very foundation of American democracy.”

Crist also announced that his first major piece of legislation he soon will be filing involves a measure to protect Social Security. He said his legislation would in part raise the cap on earnings that are taxed. Currently, earnings up to $118,500 are taxed for this purpose. Crist’s 13th Congressional District it should be noted,  has always been considered to contain one of the highest concentration of senior voters in the nation.

The other component of his bill would be to eliminate taxation on citizens beginning to cash in on Social Security benefits.

“The hard part is getting these things because we’re putting them in the same bill,” he said.

Members of the audience filled out question forms beforehand, and were given a number that was then announced in no particular order by a Crist staffer during the meeting.

That seemed to be working well enough, but nearly two hours into the town hall, Dr. David McKalip said he’d had enough. The Tea Party activist and St. Petersburg neurosurgeon interrupted the proceedings to say that it was time to interrupt the one-sided nature of the questions being asked,d before asking Crist to please “repeal Obamacare.”

As he continued speaking, the crowd began jeering loudly, yelling at him to “ask your question!”

McKalip said insurance rates had skyrocketed since the ACA officially went into effect in 2014, mentioning the deleterious affect it has on his patients.

Crist never directly responded, instead passing the microphone to the next woman scheduled to ask a question. She began by giving an impassioned defense of the ACA.

Always lauded for his skills as a retail politician, Crist was at his zenith in terms of people pleasing throughout the meeting, though sometimes in an over the top fashion. When a Clearwater resident introduced herself by saying she had just recently relocated from northern Illinois, Crist responded by saying, “Welcome to Heaven.”

When St. Petersburg resident named Cuthbert Hutton asked a question about Trump stripping down the EPA, Crist got a bit corny.

“Mr Hutton is it? So when you speak, people listen,” he quipped, invoking the not-so-recent television ad tagline. He then assured Hutton that he would do “everything in my power to make sure that budget, that has to be approved by the House and the Senate, before it goes to the president’s desk, is one that reflects your wishes. Because you’re my boss. Literally.”

When Seminole resident Randy Wright began his comment about preserving the Affordable Care Act by mentioning that Crist used to be Insurance Commissioner in Florida, Crist interrupted him.

“Education Commissioner, ” he said.

“Not Insurance Commissioner?” Wright responded.

“Hell no,” Crist fired back, eliciting a wave of laughter.

And at one point he gave Pinellas resident Tracy Crabtree his card with his personal cell phone numbers, which he then had her read aloud.

Another citizen who left a bit disgruntled was Beverly Young, the widow of the late C.W. Bill Young, the Republican who held the CD 13 seat for over forty years before his death in the fall of 2013. Young said that she was disappointed with Crist’s dealings with veterans in Pinellas County.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.
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