AFTER a February town hall at Armstrong Center which had overflowing crowds and was marked mostly by people yelling over the congressman — and each other — a move to the larger confines of Bible Baptist Church was marketed by Buddy Carter as a way to fit more people into the event, in a more peaceful setting.
Except at his latest town hall last week, the venue itself seemed to frame much of the discussion.
Audience members arrived to find the congressman’s staff had filled the pews with anti-Affordable Care Act literature and talking points. It was a bit of a jarring development for those who prefer church and state to stay as far apart as possible.
Some audience members said though they’d been promised they could use red and green flash cards to indicate agreement or disagreement with things the congressman said, they were told by law enforcement upon entering the sanctuary that they couldn’t. (The crowd would later ignore the injunction and use them anyway, with no disruption or repercussion.)
Most controversially, members of Planned Parenthood said they were told they couldn’t pass out literature on church grounds, supposedly because it contradicts the church’s stance on abortion.
All of it added up to a sense that using a church as a venue was perhaps not wholly about fitting a larger crowd into the town hall.
None of it sheltered Congressman Carter from a variety of confrontational questions, many involving women’s rights in the wake of Carter’s comment on a news channel urging the president to “snatch a knot” in the backside of those in the way of repealing the Affordable Care Act.
The now-notorious comment seemed at odds with Carter’s repeated pleas for civility and respect from the pulpit of the church during the town hall.
A questioner brought up the phrase, asking Carter how he could he request civility when he speaks like that about women.
In an answer which brought groans, Carter replied that he wasn’t talking about one woman, but was using the phrase in plural about a number of people.
Carter was challenged directly on the issue of Planned Parenthood’s literature and side-stepped the question with a statement of his position on abortion: “I’m not against women’s rights. I’m against killin’ babies. That’s all there is to it,” he said.
Most directly, a young questioner asked if Carter would still be against abortion if his wife were raped.
In an answer many saw as splitting hairs at best and hypocritical at worst, he responded that “it’s still a baby” but that an abortion would be a “personal decision” between his wife and him.
Several local political celebrities had particularly pointed interactions with Carter.
Former Chatham County Commissioner Tony Center got an ovation for saying to the congressman, “I appreciate your stance on civility. Will you please relate those same remarks to the president of the United States?”
Former Mayor Edna Jackson made a soliloquy of sorts urging Carter to put aside partisanship and work with Democrats on issues of concern to all Americans.
She also received huge applause from the crowd when she said, “All immigrants are not bad people. Even if they don’t speak English they are among our best workers.”
Local activist Linda Wilder Bryan — right before asking the question about snatching a knot — also got in a crowd-pleasing zinger.
After Bryan’s greeting to the congressman, Carter joked “Wanna trade places?”
To which Bryan, not missing a beat, said, “Yes. Yes I would.” The audience went wild.
While the vast majority of questions came from a place of opposition to Carter and to Republican policies in general, the congressman seemed to have a larger cohort of supporters at this town hall than at the last one.
One supporter thanked Carter for holding the meeting, pointing out that the majority of Republican members of Congress are avoiding town halls altogether in the wake of Trump’s election.
While for the most part Carter held to mainstream Republican talking points on issues like abortion and transgenders in the military, he let the air out of the crowd’s balloon a bit in his measured reply to a question about impeaching Trump should Mueller investigation find proof of collusion with Russia.
“No matter who is president, if conclusive proof is found I would vote to impeach,” Carter said, leaving a bit of wiggle room with the word “conclusive.”
On the issue of climate change Carter also departed a bit from party orthodoxy by admitting that climate change is real, but that he questions how much is caused by human activity.