Congressman Ted Yoho

Representing the 3rd District of Florida
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Editorial: Civil discourse shown at town hall

Mar 8, 2017
In The News

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho and the mostly progressive crowd that attended his town hall meeting Saturday might not have changed each others' minds on any major issues.

But the Gainesville Republican and his constituents accomplished something by showing how people who disagree can engage each other in a civil way. It's a lesson for politicians from Donald Trump on down, as well as any critics of the president trying to silence people with differing opinions.

Since Trump's election, the renewed engagement of everyday citizens in politics has been an encouraging sign. Community members had been clamoring for a town hall meeting with Yoho to hear his positions on actions taken by the administration and Congress' plans.

Saturday's event wasn't perfect given that it was difficult for some residents to get to the west Gainesville church where it was held and many were turned away with seating limited to 300 people. But Yoho showed a commitment to engaging people with differing views by developing the event's rules with Indivisible Gainesville, which is part of a national movement formed in opposition to Trump, and having the event moderated by Yoho's Democratic opponent in 2014, Marihelen Wheeler.

The event seemed to pull off the difficult feat of allowing the congressman to speak without being constantly disrupted while also letting his constituents express their opposition. The questions were pulled from a hat and all of them ended up covering issues of concern to progressives. As The Sun reported, some audience members let Yoho know when they disagreed with his answers through mild shouting, the thumbs-down gesture and crossing their arms.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and others Republican lawmakers ducking town hall meetings should take Yoho's event as an example of how to conduct them. The president himself might learn a similar lesson, if he would actually listen to people who disagree with him rather than just belittling them over Twitter.

The activism that has arisen since Trump's election is a positive sign at a time when too few Americans vote or are otherwise engaged in politics. But on some occasions the message of protests has unfortunately been diminished due to violence. While there was one scuffle outside Yoho's event that led to an arrest, thankfully it didn't overshadow the event.

At several points during the event, Yoho chided audience members for failing to attend past town halls. He's right. Local progressives should have been holding Yoho to account for his positions and providing feedback long before Trump's election.

Yoho makes no qualms about his right-wing views, which are closer aligned with rural residents of his district than those in left-leaning Gainesville. While he said he's open to persuasion, we haven't seen many examples of him taking positions outside conservative orthodoxy.

Perhaps the best bet for critics of Trump would be to hold Yoho to his promise to provide oversight of the executive branch. Yoho said he thinks Congress should handle any investigation of Russian interference in the election, but House Republicans so far have shown a reluctance to holding Trump accountable.

As Yoho said, those unhappy with him can always vote him out of office — although that is easier said than done in a district considered safely Republican. In the meantime, constituents who missed Saturday's event have another opportunity with a town hall planned in April in east Gainesville. Hopefully everyone will again show that civil discourse in still possible in this era of deep divisions.

— This editorial was written by Gainesville Sun opinion editor Nathan Crabbe and represents the opinion of The Sun's editorial board.