Everything on the table at congressional town hall in Fort Pierce

Posted at 8:16 PM, Feb 24, 2017
and last updated 2019-03-27 07:00:12-04

With tensions in Washington, town halls across the country have made headlines for rowdiness. Some republican congressmen are even avoiding it.

And a meeting in Fort Pierce on Friday afternoon was no different.

Hundreds took advantage of the opportunity to speak face to face with congressman Brian Mast (R-FL District 18) before he heads back to Washington, D.C. next week, bringing their frustrations front and center.

People came bearing signs of protest but had to leave them outside the door at the Fenn Center.

From immigration, to gun control and veterans health, nothing was off the table. Rep. Mast addressed as many hot button issues as he could during the nearly two hour long town hall.

Several times throughout the meeting, people yelled, booed, clapped and jeered loudly, with Mast and his aides working to answer every questio

"We could've used the time so much more efficiently. I wished people had more courtesy," said Fort Pierce resident, Ruth Herring.

A veteran himself, Mast's theme revolved around veteran's issues.

"There's 9 million veterans. 6 million get VA care, 3 million don't. A lot depend on the protections of the Affordable Care Act," said Michael Faul, a Vietnam veteran. "I'm concerned that I want those protections to continue."

Several veterans spoke up during the town hall.

One man asked, "I'm concerned of all the veterans that are locked out of the VA hospitals -- can you open the doors for all veterans?"

"Very specific problems that we have with our own VA such as the fact that you can't drink the water there. The distances people have to travel to VA facilities, especially for people that live up here in places like Fort Pierce," said Mast. "Making sure that those issues that are associated with Agent Orange are taken very seriously...There are very important things that are going on with our veterans out there. To not give them the care and the care that they've earned, I think there's very little greater travesty."

One woman spoke up, concerned about the federal hiring freeze and wage freeze that could affect veterans.

"I signed on recently to a bill to make sure to specifically except the VA and several other agencies from that hiring freeze," Mast answered.

As republicans find a replacement for Obamacare, people were also fired up over the fate of health insurance.

"My family member has a pre-existing condition. I cannot lose healthcare because of this," said one Stuart resident.

"If people have anxiety about what's going on with healthcare reform or Obamacare, then I blame myself and my peers and my colleagues in not doing a good job in messaging things," said Mast.

The room then demanded answers to Russia and it's involvement with the White House. Many people chanted, "Lock him up."

"I am always a proponent for letting the truth and the facts fall where they may," responded Mast. "I will be speaking up very loudly about that issue as you see more hearings come to play on what is going on with Russia."

Another woman expressed her fear for family and the fate of immigrants.

"Neighbors, our friends, my son's classmates are scared," said Laurie Prim Conlon, a Stuart resident.

Often commenting on his openness to work with those across the aisle, Mast answered back with a quote from former president Barack Obama.

"I agree on the need to better secure our border and to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants. We are a generous and welcoming nation. But those who enter the country illegally...they are showing disregard for those who are following the law," he quoted, to the applause and boos of many in the crowd. "Undocumented, unchecked, circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently and lawfully to become immigrants...Barack Obama."

In an interview with media before the town hall, Mast commented on President Trump's rollout of immigration reform such as the temporary ban of travelers from particular Middle Eastern nations.

"I think it number one, could've been rolled out in a much better way. But I think it's important to realize what the overall goal of this is," he said. "These are the threats that we face out there. We should take them seriously."

Outside of the issues discussed at the town hall, Mast said he is undertaking a special focus on water issues surrounding Lake Okeechobee and the blue algae crisis.

"We are one day closer to them completing those projects surrounding Lake Okeechobee and that's always a positive thing that we can say," he said. "What I'm doing in Washington, D.C., I made sure to get on the committee for transportation and infrastructure and even more important than that, I got on the committee of water resources and environment and was made a vice chair as a freshman [congressman]."

That means he can be in the subcommittee that writes all the water bills that have to do with getting resources for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.

"What I think is absolutely absurd is that the federal government can cause a problem downstream from where we are here on the Treasure Coast without having to correct that problem," he added. "And that is the major issue that I see I can effect right now in Washington."

He's working to write a bill that says pots of money that exist right now within the EPA and FEMA, would be able to be drawn upon by state water project officials. They could use that money to help clean the water as water is released out of the east and west side of the Lake.

"It's not a permanent fix but I think it's a bandaid that would be very helpful until we get some of these other projects brought to completion," he said.

Congressman Mast is expected to leave for Washington first thing Monday but he says the conversation does not have to stop at these town halls. He regularly chats with constituents as much as possible on his Facebook page and is working to open more district offices around the area.