Crist: ‘It’s Almost as if a Sleeping Giant Has Been Awakened’
By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist held his first Town Hall meeting Saturday. He was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation by an audience angry with what’s happening in Washington, DC.
ST. PETERSBURG – The standing room only crowd that came out to U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s first town hall meeting had at least one thing in common with similar gatherings across the U.S. – anger.
The difference was that this audience wasn’t angry with Crist. They reserved their anger for the Republicans and President Donald Trump.
“I can’t believe this crap,” audience member Marilyn Abbott said during the question and answer session.
Another woman told Crist she spends a “good part of my time being enraged.” The room, she said, was full of “soldiers” who are willing to fight to get America back. But, she said, “we need help organizing the soldiers who are in this room.”
Crist said he was behind them and working for them. He reminded them that the next election is only 18 months away. That’s when the entire U.S. House of Representatives comes up for election. So do many seats in the U.S. Senate. That’s a chance, he said, for the people to take control of the House and stymie Trump and the Republicans.
He urged the crowd to continue speaking out, to stay organized and apply pressure to elected officials.
“You’re proud and you’re loud,” Crist said, referring to one of the chants at January’s women’s march, which saw more than 20,000 men, women and children take over St. Petersburg’s streets in protest of the incoming Trump administration.
Crist said he came back from Washington to march in the event. He expected maybe a thousand people to show up, but instead joined a massive crowd.
“It’s almost as if a sleeping giant has been awakened,” Crist said. Later in the meeting, he said he has hope for the future because of such things as the women’s march and the newly awakened activism.
“It’s happening everywhere … all over the world,” Crist said. “America’s back and I see it right here in this room.”
Some in the crowd responded with, “Yes, yes, yes.”
The crowd was with Crist. But that did not mean they let him off lightly, pushing him to answer a question he had seemed to evade while talking.
And, there was at least one naysayer in the audience. Dr. David McKalip, a St. Petersburg neurosurgeon and Tea Party activist, was there to protest Obamacare. Before Crist arrived, he wandered the ballroom in the student center at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg asking, “Anyone want to help repealing Obamacare?”
Later, he protested the way the people who asked questions were chosen – by lottery. Those who wanted to ask questions were given a ticket with a number. One part of the ticket was placed in a glass bowl. The tickets were then drawn randomly and the person with the other part of the ticket got to ask a question.
When Crist came down into the audience to meet questioners, McKalip asked, “Can you hear a different viewpoint?” Noting that, by that point his ticket had not been pulled out of the bowl, he accused Crist of running a “rigged system raffle.”
The audience was outraged and he then taunted the audience saying liberals only respected free speech when the viewpoints were their own. Someone called out in the general uproar, “Let him speak.”
McKalip did, saying, “I apologize for cutting in line. Please repeal Obamacare.”
He spoke shortly about the problems he saw with the Affordable Care Act. But, if not the lone voice, he was in the minority. Most of the remainder of the crowd wanted some form of general health insurance or health care.
Crist was on their side, promising early in the meeting: “I will not repeal it.”
His statement was greeted by applause and cheers:
On Planned Parenthood – He said he supports both Planned Parenthood and choice.
On education: “I believe education is a civil right. Public education is a civil right. … I think we all have an obligation to our fellow Americans to see that they get a decent education across the board.”
On veterans’ benefits: “I will not vote to lower the amount of funds that go to the VA.”
On NASA and space exploration: “We’ve got to reach for the stars again.”
Crist, a Democrat, represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which covers most of mid- and south Pinellas County.
For information about Charlie Crist, go to crist.house.gov.
Photos by Anne Lindberg, TB Reporter
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