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  1. Florida Politics

Rep. Charlie Crist faces friendly crowd in Clearwater town hall meeting

CLEARWATER — Amid gridlock in Washington, uncertainty over health care and immigration, and a nation still reeling two weeks after a deadly white supremacy rally, constituents of Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist aired concerns for about four hours Friday at a notably civil town hall forum.

One by one, holding a microphone in the St. Petersburg College Clearwater auditorium, their questions jumped from net neutrality, Medicaid funding and President Donald Trump's call to ban transgender military members to local transportation problems and the threat of flood in Pinellas County.

But the speaker who got the largest roar, a standing ovation from some of the 300 attendees, questioned the competency and potential threat of the sitting president.

"Every utterance, tweet-wise or personally, shows evidence of temperamental, emotional and intellectual instability, and I'm concerned about the safety of the country," said Clearwater psychiatrist Mark Simko. "A drumbeat of increase in support is what we're going to need to share that concern about his competence. When are you going to join your voice to that chorus?"

Crist countered that he's already shown no fear at speaking out against Trump, as he did by condemning the proposed Muslim ban earlier this year. But later in the forum, Vickie Dunn, a member of the local chapter of advocacy group Indivisible, asked Crist if he would sign a resolution introduced last week to censure Trump for his comments following the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., where he equated neo-Nazis and counterprotesters.

"I'm not sure, I haven't reached a conclusion yet," Crist replied.

In response to other questions, Crist reiterated his stance on being pro-immigration reform, against cuts to Medicaid funding and happy to see Confederate monuments coming down.

Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County member William Rogers, who married his partner of 26 years in 2015 after the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage, said it felt like the LGBT community falls back a mile for every step forward.

Trump's call to ban transgender people from serving in the military, he said, was a blow to the long struggle.

"What can you do? What can all of us do together to stop this insanity?" he implored.

"To me it's discrimination," Crist said. "What can I do? I can voice that opinion. I have and will continue to. You can vote. The power is within you. . . . The next election is not that far away."

Kara Malin, a nurse from Tampa, lamented that "we have a health care system that views health care as a commodity, not a human right." Crist agreed the system needs reform, even with the benefits he saw come from the Affordable Care Act. But he stopped short of agreeing to Malin's request to support a single-payer system.

Crist spent much of the forum sympathizing with residents' concerns and pledging to work for them in Washington. But he made one prediction: He said the 2016 election has made "a significant difference to our country" and it could be the impetus to shift the power in Washington to those who resist Trump's agenda.

"I'm in a minority party, that is what it is, but I don't know if that's going to the be case for very long," he said.

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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