Congressman Harris jeered at town hall

WYE MILLS — Rep. Andy Harris faced a vocal and rowdy crowd during his town hall Friday evening at Chesapeake College.

The Todd Performing Arts Center was packed with people, many of whom had a mind to protest Rep. Harris. At least 20 members of Indivisible Dorchester, a progressive county organization, attended the town hall to show their commitment to replacing the congressman.

Moments before the representative for Maryland’s First District took the stage, the boisterous group set the tone for the night by chanting, “this is what democracy looks like.” Throughout the town hall, a number of audience members loudly jeered and booed Rep. Harris, holding up signs with statements of protest.

At the very beginning, the representative said he wished to start the town hall the same way he starts every one of his town halls — with a slide presentation containing information about sky-rocketing government spending. Many members of the raucous audience expressed their displeasure with the representative’s presentation. They demanded that Harris skip the slides and answer questions that were submitted by the public before the town hall began.

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
More than 20 people, some not pictured, from Indivisible Dorchester attended Rep. Andy Harris’ town hall at Chesapeake College. Among those pictured are Gloria Warner, Morgan Harris, Nancy Hanmer, Jill Clark, Maritza Sanchez, Susan Olsen, Lucia Rojas, Mike Brown, LaSara Kinser, Stephen Kinser, Michelle Barnes, Valerie Goff, Miriam Zijp-Koedijk, Beth Ann Lynch, Barbara Hale and April Howard.

In the days leading up to the gathering, many members of community groups asked that Rep. Harris extend the planned time for the town hall from one hour to three hours, citing his general lack of availability to the public.

The crowd grew so loud that Rep. Harris was forced to stop his slide presentation for a few minutes. Finally, the crowd calmed down and Harris quickly finished his talk about deficit spending. Then he began to field randomly drawn questions submitted by members of the audience.

Harris answered questions on a wide variety of subjects from de-funding Chesapeake Bay clean up, to his thoughts on climate change, school nutrition, immigration, health care and the opioid epidemic.

At one point, the jeers from the audience grew so loud that Rep. Harris asked, “are you all done?”

The response was a resounding, “no.”

Asked about climate change, Rep. Harris said, “Clearly the climate is changing,” to cheers from the audience.

The representative went on to say, “Two questions: One is, what are the contributing factors? And the other one is, can you alter those factors in a way that would significantly decrease it without harming the economy?”

Audience members then loudly booed the representative while shouting, yelling and screaming.

The congressman was asked if he supported building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Rep. Harris said U.S. efforts to stop illegal immigration clearly weren’t working.

The crowd responded by chanting, “no wall, no wall, no wall.”

Overall, the audience was displeased with many of Rep. Harris’ statements, but his responses to some of the questions drew applause.

The congressman was asked about the opioid epidemic. As a doctor, Rep. Harris said his profession was partially responsible for the problem of opioid misuse. He said he supports better tracking the prescribing and sale of opioids. Overall, the audience seemed to approve of his message.

The representative also said he wants to continue funding Bay clean up, and that he would like to see President Donald Trump’s tax returns, to the crowd’s approval. Asked why there is less and less negotiation in Congress, Rep. Harris said he believes that is a result of gerrymandered voting districts. The congressman admitted he benefits from a gerrymandered district, and said he supports a nonpartisan redrawing of district lines. The crowd applauded his statements on those subjects as well.

After the hour was up, the congressman insisted on answering a couple extra questions.

At the end of the town hall, Rep. Harris said, “In this country, we can agree to disagree without fear. That is tremendous. … If you don’t agree with me, God bless you. We’re going to agree to disagree, but America is the best country in the world.”

Mike Brown is a spokesman for Indivisible Dorchester, which according to the group’s mission statement, “… is organized and committed to replacing Congressman Andy Harris by supporting and working for any candidate(s), Democratic, Republican or other who can better serve the constituents of the First Congressional District.”

After the town hall, Mr. Brown said, “I think Andy heard something tonight that he hasn’t heard before. This is really different for him. We didn’t hear much different, but he did. We heard pretty much the same old thing.”

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