Cline Stresses Bipartisan Efforts

Town Hall Speakers Critical Of Divisive Political Rhetoric

Congressman Ben Cline began by chronicling his efforts to “reach across the aisle” in Washington, but many residents called into question his sincerity, citing divisive rhetoric on past occasions.

Yesterday, at a town hall meeting at Lylburn Downing Community Center in Lexington, Cline analyzed the difference in demeanor between state and national government officials, speculating that Republican and Democrat state representatives were more cordial with each other because they had “no option but to sit and have lunch together.” In national government settings, however, Democrats and Republicans retreat to their separate cloak rooms.

To have more bipartisan interactions, Cline said he started inviting small groups of freshman Democrats and Republicans to have lunch in the member’s dining room on the floor below the House chamber.

“I took what we knew to work in Richmond and brought it to D.C.,” Cline explained.

He also said that he co-sponsored about 120-130 bills, two-thirds of which had a Democrat as a co-sponsor.

“We’re not gonna solve our problems with health care in this country unless we come together. We’re not gonna solve our problems related to the border — immigration, unless we come together — the cost of getting a college education …”

In response, many residents generally expressed their thanks for those politicians making efforts to increase civility across party lines. But they were politely skeptical as to whether or not Cline himself was a prime example of such a politician.

“I feel like you and your colleagues — whether they’re Democrat or Republican, spend just way too much time bashing each other. I think most of us as Americans would really like to hear what you’re doing, and how you want to do it, and forget the other side,” Debbie Pollard, a self-described independent, said. “I feel like you and your younger colleagues, your newly elected colleagues, need to work a little harder to set a better example.”

“I like you, and the style of presentation that you’re giving right now,” Chris Galaver said. “You emphasize bipartisanship, you emphasize a very reasonable approach, you describe ways that you try to reach across the aisle and try to compromise. My concern is that … this version of you feels like the version that’s designed for Lexington.”

Galaver referenced a previous appearance in which Cline struck a very different tone.

“I’ve read some of your tweets, and some of them are pretty divisive,” he continued. “You do speak in rhetoric that seems to contradict a lot of the things you’ve said here.”

Cline said that he is not trying to be nonpartisan, and reminded the audience that he was a Republican. However, he welcomed the criticism.

Someone shouted that partisan is not a synonym for divisive.

Though willing to accept criticism for his own rhetoric, he would not budge on the subject of the president’s divisive speech.

Annette Green, a county resident and a retired teacher who spent much of her career doing anti-bullying work, cited surveys that noted increased bullying for Hispanic, black and Muslim students since President Trump took office. Many of those instances of bullying, she said, borrowed Trump’s phrases, such as “build the wall, go back where you came from,” or threatening deportation.

“Students of color have found Trump 2020 on their cars, and there was the pep rally sign that said, ‘Make America Great Again, put the ‘panic’ back in Hispanic’”, Green added. “Equally unacceptable are the reported incidents of students being harassed for supporting Trump, but that is a small minority.”

Cline would not comment on Trump’s behavior, but confined his response to his own.

“I strive to set an example, and that is, uh, one of the main goals that I have as a member of Congress, is to set that example,” Cline said. “The best way for me to promote a dialogue that is positive is by engaging in a positive dialogue; like I said, I don’t focus a lot on social media. I make sure that my rhetoric is what I feel about a certain issue.”

He later said that, though social media is still an important tool of communication, young people aren’t using Twitter and Facebook to have meaningful political discussions anymore.

Resident Ann Hopkins echoed previous residents’ desires to see politicians step away from dogma and act or speak independently from his or her party every once in awhile.

“I like you, you seem like a nice person, I want to like you,” Hopkins said. “I will applaud you, even though you won’t be able to hear it, the day that you vote for something from an independent point view … break ranks when you feel you need to break ranks — stand in your own truth.”

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