MIAMI – The tone of Ottawa County's town hall meeting April 10 was focused intensity, with the one-hour session revealing nearly equal numbers of supporters and dissenters in attendance.
Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-2) was in Miami Monday morning at the Paul Thomas Family Center to conduct the second of five town hall meetings scheduled in northeast Oklahoma.
Ottawa County's town hall kicked off at 10 a.m. with Miami Mayor Rudy Schultz introducing Mullin following an invocation and the pledge of allegiance.
Mulling took the floor, starting as he has in the town hall meetings preceding Miami's with a call for respectful interactions and a focus on commonalities instead of differences.
Mullin called attention to veterans and law enforcement, saying that places of common ground to be found among attendees was in appreciation of the work and sacrifices made by both groups in protecting the freedom of Americans.
The Congressman then echoed a sentiment he has expressed several times during his town hall tour, that of a commonality he said is to be found through allegiance to the American flag.
"We stood up a while ago, and we pledged allegiance to that flag. That's the most beautiful flag in the world, right? Not one person stood up and said I pledge allegiance to the republican or the democrat party. None of us," said Mullin.
Continuing his opening theme of respect and civility he added, "Just keep in mind, we can be civil about it. We can agree to disagree because we all love this country. We're just may be going at it from a different direction. So we need to be respectful and be mindful of everybody around."
The Congressman then laid out expectations for the remainder of the session asking participants to keep questions direct, brief and from meandering into opinion.
He also made mention of signs not being waved during the meeting, saying their only purpose would be to serve as a distraction before specifically calling out the use of the red and green cards organized for use by activist group Individual Oklahoma.
The use of the rectangular colored paper, which is purposed with signaling agreement with a talking point, green, or disagreement, red, has been the source of contention following a confrontation at the Mayes County town hall held in Pryor on Friday, March 31.
Mullin and a Cherokee County woman, who has since been identified as Leslie Moyer by the Tahlequah Daily Press, clashed over her use of a red paper card during the meeting, which subsequently went viral online.
During the town hall in Miami, several in attendance could be seen holding similar cards but kept them displayed at chest level, with no further comment on their use coming from Mullin for the duration of the meeting.
As the constituents were called up front to ask their questions, it became increasingly clear that the filled venue was not hosting a majority of either supporters or objectors, with voices being heard from all sides.
Mullin fielded questions aligned to primary concerns in recent political headlines such as veterans services, education, healthcare costs, and even the recent attack on Syria.
The Congressman was not able to provide decisive answers to many of the questions posed but did spend significant time reaffirming his position on several topics, explaining the processes behind his work in Congress toward solutions and repeatedly emphasizing that as a rural Oklahoman he was keyed into the hardships and concerns of his constituents.
The topics of healthcare and immigration summoned the strongest reactions from attendees with the mixed crowd offering equal amounts of applause and disgruntled murmurs.
On education and healthcare, Mullin maintained his stance that lessoning federal control of these institutions and moving it into the hands of state governments would serve Americans better.
On the 59 Tomahawk missiles fired on a government-controlled base in Syria last week, Mullin expressed appreciation for Trump's decision, adding that it was necessary for Trump to act decisively in light of Assad's recent chemical attack in Syria and inaction by the former administration.
"If Assad is willing to use it on his own people, with Russia blocking blessing, you don't think he would do it on American troops? He had to respond, and because Obama didn't respond when he drawn the red line it discredited us," said Mullin. "And don't kid yourself if that wasn't a test with our new president, and he answered it, and he answered it well, and God bless him for doing it."
When asked about refugees, Mullin's response was more concise with his first restating Tump's rallying cry on foreign policy, "America First."
Mullin expressed his support of reducing the number of refugees by extending the vetting process for some and halting the intake of others altogether for a time.
When mentioning the possible planned incursion of Sharia law by refugees, the Congressman was met with the loudest responses from those assembled, both dismissing the validity of the correlation with refugees and those applauding efforts to shield Americans from possible extremists threats via immigration.
On environmental issues directly impacting Ottawa County, L.E.A.D. Agency Executive Director and Tar Creek Creekkeeper Rebecca Jim stepped to the mic to ask Mullin about massive cuts to funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and more pointedly, how the Congressman would "stick up" for his District 2 constituents directly impacted by the Tar Creek Superfund site.
Mullin said first that the $330 million cut to the EPA was not attached to any Superfund sites or funding, explaining that the cuts were an attempt to curb overreach by the federal agency and return the ability to states to regulate themselves.
Continuing on the topic, Mullin said the size and overreach of the EPA were evident in remediation processes led by the agency.
"The EPA has spent literally billions of dollars direct and indirect on Tar Creek sites, and it's still a mess. If you invested that with a private company, I guarantee you, I guarantee you, you would already have a tremendous amount already done if not completed."
Mullins then added that the Quapaw Tribe, which has completed a significant amount of remediation work at Tar Creek Superfund sites, has been attempting to meet with the EPA since 2013, but has yet to.
Jim countered that although funding of Superfund sites may not be effected, that cuts could see the elimination of lead prevention services through the EPA that are vital to the region.
Mullin's replied by saying specifics like that had not been included in the President's "skinny budget," and that a lot of assumptions had been made about programs being cut.
Rounding out the session, one commenter commended the Congressman for his efforts, but expressed disdain for dissenters that he said followed Mullin's around "heckling him."
Mullin's commented that while he maintains one of the biggest threats to the nation is complacency, there was little being modeled to future generations that politics was an area to be honored or pursued. He said the contentious nature of politics especially online and in social media was a deterrent to civil engagement.
A woman from the audience was the last to speak challenging Mullin's on the purpose of the town hall meetings, by asking if the point was for him to share his thoughts and opinions or for him to hear from those who attended?
Mullin's ended the session with his reply saying the meetings were not a debate forum but a town hall where he could answer questions, and he believed that he was doing that.