GAINESVILLE – Ninth District U.S. Representative Doug Collins packed the house Wednesday evening; in fact, house security (Gainesville Police) had to turn away approximately 80 attendees because every seat was taken.
No, it wasn’t a concert, rather it was the first town hall meeting of the abbreviated August recess for the third-term Republican congressman from Gainesville, and voters were ready to speak to their congressman.
“People in the 9th District take their politics seriously,” one Collins staffer said as people passed through the metal detector leading into the courtroom at the Gainesville Public Safety Center.
Fifteen-minutes before the meeting began, Gainesville Police determined the seating capacity had been equaled and told those still in line that no one else could enter unless someone already inside decided to leave.
Light rain began falling on those queued outside the main door but few left, hoping against hope that someone would leave and they could take their seat.
Collins answered nearly 40 written questions, submitted prior to the meeting by those in the audience. Topics ranged from healthcare to term limits to North Korea and the Russians. And of course, there were questions about Donald Trump.
“Do you agree with the “Tweets” Trump is using for policy?” question #16 asked.
“Trump’s decided to do that,” Collins responded, “He’s the President; we’ll continue to let him tweet.”
Despite light-hearted exchanges like that, it didn’t take long for tension to build.
Twenty minutes into the event Collins found himself being shouted down by a dozen or more members of the audience when fielding a question about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
Collins sat down, crossed his arms and waited until the catcalls subsided.
“At this point in time you may or may not like my position. That’s fine,” Collins said as he rose from his chair.
“But I’ll also tell you yelling at me is not going to change my position,” he added.
Applause filled the room, but that did not deter the detractors. Ten minutes later it happened again, with one unidentified woman leading the stentorian onslaught.
Across the room a man shouted out, “Be quiet lady! We’ve come to hear him, not you.” Again the room erupted in applause.
When asked after the town hall if he was taken aback by the outbursts, Collins said, “No. What is really interesting is that we’ve gotten to know them a lot over the last six months. We knew they were there.”
Collins continued, “The district is an 80-20 district (Republican to Democrat voting percentages) but that 20-percent is tens-of-thousands of people. I’ve had conversations in our office with them before…but now that President Trump is in they have come forward.”
“This was their opportunity in our district to come out and express their concern to their congressman.”
One of the more serious moments of the evening came when Collins was asked about the showdown with North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un.
“It’s a major issue. Basically you have a petulant child running a country,” Collins, a Major in the Air Force Reserves, stated.
“This is a situation that has gone on for 20-plus years under various administrations and we’ve let it get to a point now where it’s very disturbing. Them with a nuclear capability is just something that the world does not need.”
As the evening came to a conclusion Collins said, “At the end of the day this is about a country that we dearly love. This is about a country that I believe the best days are ahead. And when we look ahead to that, if we can put our minds toward that, if we can put our hearts toward that, and realize that we will have disagreements…it’s about being all we are called to be, to serve as best we can.”