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Public gathers for town hall

Amber Briggle asked U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess where he stood on gay and transgender rights.

Other people asked him where he stood on other issues, like the economy and environment.

Burgess (R-Pilot Point) heard some strong opinions from his constituents at his town hall meeting Aug. 3 at Braswell High School’s gym.

Burgess, who represents District 26, made no formal opening remarks and asked patrons to keep conversations civil. Remarks during the evening were met with boos and cheers and sometimes a mixture of both. Some people in the audience yelled at questioners when they didn’t like their questions or opinions or when they seemed to take too long to make remarks or ask questions. At one point, an audience member felt inspired to laugh like the Joker from “Batman” cartoons and movies.

Some in the audience held cards that read “Agree” and “Disagree.” One man wore an “Impeach Trump” T-shirt; another wore a shirt that read “Trump Won … Get Over It!” Several people wearing Indivisible Denton shirts were on hand.

A few hundred people attended the event, which Burgess said was his 100th town hall. Nearly 20 people stood at the microphone and asked questions.

“I will stress this is not a political event – this is a representational event for me, so I’m not here on behalf of any particular political persuasion,” he said. “I will do so if you provoke me. But on the basis, it is a non-political event.”

The first questioner asked about the Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, including whether Burgess would consider meeting with a foreign adversary to get dirt on one of his opponents “What are you offering?” Burgess said, drawing some laughs and applause. She asked whether it would be appropriate to meet with Russians to get information, and he said he would not meet with a foreign adversary. But said he was not sure what he would have done had someone posed that question to him in October 2002, as far as whether he would have provided the same answer. “That’s not the type of thing that most people think about on a daily basis, and when you are in a campaign, you are in it to win it,” he said. She wanted to know what he would do if President Donald Trump fired special counsel

Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. He called her question “hypothetical” and declined to respond. “You deal with the circumstances as they come up,” he said. “That is not a question that is answerable at this point.”

Burgess said Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential election because she was a “bad candidate, end of story.” His remark drew considerable cheers. “And Trump won because Russia interfered with our election,” she retorted, adding that Trump was “an illegitimate president” and Burgess was putting party ahead of country. She asked him to stand up to Trump.

The next questioner asked the same question about Mueller. The questioner brought up the sanctions bill against Russia signed by Trump, wondering whether Trump would try to go around the law. “Be happy – he signed the law,” Burgess said. The next questioner, Briggle, who lives in Denton, said this was her first town hall and asked Burgess where he stands on issues related to federal protections for LGBTQ people and whether he plans to stand on the “right side of history.” Briggle is the mother of a transgender son. He said generals will make decisions on transgender service members. Trump recently called for a ban on transgender service members. She asked him about the Equality Act, a bill introduced in 2015 that would provide protections that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex in areas such as employment, housing and public accommodation. The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “That has come up in the past, and I have not been supportive, and you know that,” Burgess said. “That’s too bad,” she said, thanking him and walking away.

Later in the evening, a mother of a gay son exhorted Burgess to not be on the “wrong side of history” when it comes to gay rights. Other people stood at the microphone and asked about the environment, immigration, privacy matters, education and jobs and employment. One questioner asked Burgess whether he would support a tax break for the middle class and a minimum wage increase. “What we see across the country demonstrably is that children are unable to get on their feet because of the price an apartment in your district, especially where I live in The Colony,” she said. “The cost of living has gone up demonstrably, but what they’re getting paid has not.” Burgess said Congress will have a chance to discuss tax rates and tax reform “in a big way” when it returns in the next several weeks. He hopes that a middle class tax relief is passed by Thanksgiving and that it will be retroactive by the first of the year. On the minimum wage, he does not think the federal government should be involved with that matter, explaining that it should be left up to states and municipalities. The questioner found his overall response about wages lacking, explaining he should be ashamed of himself for not understanding the plight of people in today’s economy.

On health care, Burgess supports repealing Obamacare and voted for the American Health Care Act of 2017. He told the audience at Braswell that he wants people to get health coverage. Burgess said at one point said what he decides to do on policy matters is supported by 68 percent of the district, referring to people who elected him in 2016. Afterward,

Sharon Wilson of Cross Roads and Tara Banda of Denton stood outside the high school as most of the patrons had filed out and left. Wilson said she wished Burgess had listened to his constituents and answered questions. “He’s a career politician – he’s been in office since 2003,” said Banda, who is working on the Will Fisher for Congress campaign. “So when asked questions, I think he has a really great script of what he needs to say to try to appease the base that voted him in office. “My hope after the election of 2016 is that more people will start to pay attention to what’s going on in their communities and get involved and support other candidates that might be running as well and hopefully have a real shot of making things a little bit more even for all of the citizens of the district.”

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