Marco Ru­bio, meet your peo­ple

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - VOICES & OPINION -

Florida Sen. Mar­coRu­bio should man up and meet face-to-face with the peo­ple he was elected to rep­re­sent.

Peo­ple­want to be heard about the changes tak­ing place in­Wash­ing­ton, par­tic­u­larly plans to “re­peal and re­place” the Af­ford­able CareAct. It’s nowon­der, since 2.1 mil­lion Florid­i­ans get health care through Oba­macare plans, more than any other state.

Alot of peo­ple are­wor­ried they’re go­ing to lose ac­cess to health care. For some, this is a life-and-death is­sue. And yes, they get emo­tional about it.

But rather than ac­cept town­hall in­vi­ta­tions in­Tampa and South Florida dur­ing the con­gres­sional re­cess— let alone sched­ule his own­pub­lic events— Florida’s ju­nior sen­a­tor took a trip to Europe­with hiswife and, re­port­edly, some other un­named se­na­tors.

In the ab­sence of in­for­ma­tion about his trip, Ru­bio led peo­ple to be­lieve hewould not be home in time to hold town­hall meet­ings. He came clean about his cal­en­dar only af­ter be­ing spot­ted in Mi­ami by an ac­tivist.

We don’t be­grudgeRu­bio, who sits on the Se­nate For­eignRe­la­tions Com­mit­tee, a trip to Europe to meet with Ger­man and French of­fi­cials. Such face-to-face meet­ings are un­doubt­edly ben­e­fi­cial in nur­tur­ing re­la­tion­ships with con­cerned friends across the pond.

But don’tRu­bio’s con­stituents also de­serve a chance to hear fromhim?

Ru­bio nowsays he is avoid­ing town­hall meet­ings be­cause they have be­come ame­dia spec­ta­cle for peo­ple to “heckle and scream at­mein front of cam­eras.”

“What th­ese groups re­ally want is formeto sched­ule a pub­lic fo­rum, they then or­ga­nize three, four, five, six hun­dred lib­eral ac­tivists in the two coun­ties or wher­ever I amin the state,” he told CBS4-Mi­ami’s Jim DeFede on Sun­day.

It’s true that many peo­ple have been rude and ob­nox­ious at town­hall meet­ings held by other mem­bers of Congress. Andwe be­lieveRu­bio when he says ac­tivists are in­structed to go to town­halls early, “take up all the front seats” and ask lots of ques­tions.

But judg­ing byRu­bio’s per­for­mance dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, he can han­dle him­self in front of a dif­fi­cult au­di­ence far bet­ter than most.

Whenit comes to stat­ing a po­si­tion and ex­plain­ing him­self, Ru­bio is one of the best politi­cians out there. He comes across as au­then­tic, in­formed and lik­able. Youmay not al­ways agree with him, but you’ve got to ac­knowl­ege he can ex­plain is­sues bet­ter than a cer­tain some­one with big hands.

We also get thatACAis flawed and needs fix­ing. Among other things, it pe­nal­izes busi­nesses that pro­vide ex­pen­sive in­surance plans to em­ploy­ees. It’s caused some in­surance com­pa­nies to pull out of state ex­changes be­cause they’re los­ing money. And be­cause it re­quires big em­ploy­ers to pro­vide health care to peo­ple who work more than 30 hours, it’s cre­ated a new­work­force of “29ers.”

But peo­ple­want to un­der­stand theRepub­li­can plan to re­place Oba­macare. And rather than help peo­ple see, Ru­bio is ap­proach­ing the is­sue through a per­sonal po­lit­i­cal lens.

OtherRepub­li­cans have held town­hall meet­ings and al­lowed peo­ple to vent, boo, ask ques­tions, lis­ten, ar­gue­with one an­other and some­where in the mix, hear what they had to say.

Ru­bio should take a page fromthe play­book ofRepub­li­canRep. Gus Bili­rakis of NewPortRichey, who en­tered a crowded town­hall through the front door, an­swered ques­tions, lis­tened hard, ex­plained his po­si­tion and­when the meet­ing­was over, went out­side to talk to those who couldn’t get a seat in­side.

“Their­wor­ries are real. And their sto­ries are gen­uine,” Bili­rakis told Bloomberg Pol­i­tics. “Iwouldn’t be a good con­gress­man if I didn’t hear you out.”

We’re not say­ing tough crowds and thorny is­sues are easy. But serv­ing in the U.S. Se­nate isn’t de­signed for the faint of heart.

“Wel­come to the re­al­world of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” NewJersey Gov. Chris Christie said Sun­day onCNN, talk­ing aboutRepub­li­cans who don’twant to hold town­halls.

Ru­bio him­self had a very dif­fer­ent tone in this 2009 tweet, a year be­fore he­was elected to the Se­nate: “mem­oto es­tab­lish­ment (in both par­ties): the an­gry folks at health­care town­halls are REAL& their views are shared by a grow­ing ma­jor­ity.”

And con­sider what for­mer Ari­zona Con­gress­woman Gabby Gif­fords, whowas shot at an out­door meet­ing with con­stituents in 2011, said onTwit­ter: “To the politi­cians who have aban­doned their civic obli­ga­tions, I say this: Have some courage. Face your con­stituents. Hold town halls.”

Meet­ing with con­stituents— even an­gry ones— shouldn’t be called coura­geous. It should be called do­ing your job.

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