Francis Rooney holds first town hall meeting in Collier County

Posted at 6:40 PM, Mar 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-03 18:40:50-05

Southwest Florida Congressman Francis Rooney held his first general-topic town hall meeting in North Naples on Friday at noon, taking questions from a packed house that was filled with opinions.

Rooney took questions for about two hours in Exhibit Hall at North Collier Regional Park, with many of his supporters among the hundreds in the crowd. But many others challenged him on everything from his positions on the Mexican border wall to health care.

"We did (a town hall meeting) a couple of weeks ago in Sanibel, but it was focused on the water and the environment," Rooney said just before the meeting. "This is more broad. This is 'anything goes.'"

The Republican Congressman kicked things off with a list of reasons he thinks the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, should be replaced.

"25 percent average increase in premiums this year," he told constituents. "19.1 percent in Florida alone."

While the meeting brought out plenty of Rooney's supporters, most of the questions came from people who grilled him on issues such as President Donald Trump's immigration policies and Planned Parenthood.

"How will you vote if you are presented with the de-funding of Planned Parenthood?" asked one constituent, who wore a pink shirt, as did others, showing her support for the nonprofit.

"I'm sponsoring the bill to de-fund Planned Parenthood," Rooney said.

After the meeting, Helen Smith said she was disappointed by most of the conservative views she heard from Rooney.

"I knew it was going to be bad," Smith said. "I had no idea his positions on things would be so strident. Just very depressing."

While Rooney got got some applause on many of his points, he was often interrupted by boos from disgruntled constituents. Rooney supporter Samantha Stevins called it disrespectful.

"Some people may be dissatisfied with the responses that he gave," Stevins said. "But you know what? That's the First Amendment, baby. You have the right to speak your mind."

"We have differences of opinion," Rooney acknowledged after the meeting. "But as long as we're all Americans and can have civil discourse within the First Amendment, that's great."

Rooney also held a second town hall meeting at 6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Cape Coral.