Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) at a May 31, 2017 town hall in Bonita Springs. (Photo by author)
The Rooney roundup
365 days since Rep. Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum
Feb. 22, 2019 by David Silverberg
Today, Feb. 22, marks one year since Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) has faced constituents in person in an open, public forum to hear their concerns and answer their questions.
It was on Feb. 22, 2018 that Rooney held his last two town hall meetings, one on Marco Island, the other in Fort Myers.
Since then he has refused to make any appearance where members of the public could attend to ask him questions about his policies and positions.
He also refused to debate his Democratic opponent, David Holden, during the run up to the midterm congressional election. The Collier County League of Women Voters invited both candidates to a debate, scheduled for Sept. 17. Rooney responded in a letter to the League that he had “no availability” on that date and “no future availability.”
He subsequently announced that he had no need to debate or make public appearances because “everyone knows my positions.”
In the year since his last town hall meetings Rooney has only spoken to small, invited groups in very controlled circumstances. On May 30, 2018 he spoke to an invitation-only audience at The Alamo gun range and store in Naples. That appearance was organized by the Florida Citizens Alliance, an advocacy organization critical of secular public education.
Rooney also joined President Donald Trump on stage at a rally in Hertz Arena in Estero on Halloween, Oct. 31, 2018, which was not an occasion for listening to constituent concerns. Trump praised Rooney for his “brutal” defense of the president and his policies. (In December 2017 Rooney called for a purge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to eliminate any anti-Trump elements in the leadership.)
Rooney was with then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) on his bus during his campaign for the US Senate when Scott turned and fled from red tide protesters in Venice and canceled a Naples campaign stop.
Rooney’s last town halls were contentious and combative. They were held only eight days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. On Marco Island, when asked if he would support a semi-automatic weapons ban, Rooney replied: “How willing are we to throw the Constitution out the window?” The answer elicited angry shouts and catcalls.
In Fort Myers Rooney was confronted by six surviving students of the shooting. Though stating that “irresponsible people” shouldn’t have guns, his opposition to a ban or any other strong gun control measure led to jeers and angry shouts from the audience.
“Children are…dying at my school!” yelled Michael Weissman, who had graduated from the school the year before. “You are heartless!”
“I am for making sure that people who are dangerous don’t get guns in their hands,” Rooney said, to a chorus of boos. “I’m not voting to abdicate the Second Amendment.” Students from Naples and Palmetto Ridge high schools chanted: “Tell us Rooney how you dare, to put us all in the cross hairs” and “Close down the NRA; we don’t want it anyway.”
At the town hall meetings Rooney also refused to acknowledge constituent concerns about climate change. At a town hall on May 31, 2017 and then again at Marco Island on Feb. 22, 2018 he stated: “I think that there is very complex issues surrounding global warming. Sea levels have been rising since the ice age.”
Since his election in November 2016, all of Rooney’s town halls have been contentious as he has characterized the Affordable Care Act as “socialism,” deflected constituent concerns about Trump’s collusion with Russia and said the Environmental Protection Agency needed to be “reined in.”
Nonetheless, after a particularly intense meeting in Cape Coral on March 3, 2017, Rooney praised the importance of meeting constituents in town hall forums.
As he told the News-Press: “[Town hall meetings] are critically important because this is democracy at work. This is what our country is built on.”
Rooney acknowledges climate change for first time, breaks with Trump
For the first time since being elected to office, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), has publicly and officially acknowledged the reality of climate change.
The acknowledgment was buried at the bottom of a press release accompanying release of the The Southwest Florida Climate Metrics Survey by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
“If there is any state whose people should be embracing the impacts of our changing climate, it’s Florida. We are the state most at risk for sea level rise than any,” Rooney stated in the release. “This survey proves climate change is an issue important to our voters and there is more we should do to protect ourselves from future impacts.” [Emphasis ours.]
This is the first time Rooney has used the term “climate change” in public and acknowledged its reality.
In the past Rooney has always dodged acknowledging climate change or using the term, stating, as he did in multiple town halls, that sea levels have been rising since the ice age.
If in fact Rooney is acknowledging the reality of climate change he is breaking with President Donald Trump who as recently as Jan. 20 mocked the idea of global warming, tweeting amidst the plunge in temperatures caused by the polar vortex: “Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!”
If Rooney is truly acknowledging climate change and a concern for the environment, there are ways to display the outward sign of his inward grace:
- He can publicly embrace America’s re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement;
- He can endorse the Green New Deal to hold back carbon emissions and;
- He can hold an open, public town hall, explain his new position to his constituents and listen to their climatic concerns, which are amply documented in the Conservancy survey.
We shall see—but don’t hold your breath.