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Joe Gruters calls Republicans to ‘pack seats’ at Vern Buchanan’s Sarasota town-hall meeting Saturday

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Sarasota-area Democrats have waited several weeks to engage GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan; they’ll finally get their chance at a town-hall meeting Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

But will there be a counter presence of Republicans packing the seats?

Anticipation around the meeting is so strong that Buchanan’s staff announced last week they would move the event from the New College Sudakoff Center to Van Wezel, which has a capacity of over 1,730 seats.

If it’s anything like most other town halls held around the nation in 2017, it could be dominated by rowdy Democrats demanding to know why Buchanan is ready to jettison the Affordable Care Act for the American Health Care Act, which received mixed reviews from many congressional Republicans as well as a dismal score Monday from the Congressional Budget Office.

“This is an important first step toward restoring choice and affordability to health care for all Americans,” Buchanan said upon the unveiling of the bill. “This bill replaces a failing government-run program that forces people to buy insurance with a system based on choice, free markets and competition.”

Although Buchanan has famously said he has conducted more than 70 such town halls since being elected in 2006, this will be his first one this year. During the congressional weeklong break last month, Buchanan was in the Middle East, prompting some Democrats to say he was blowing them off.

That’s hardly the case, but it could be a different element than what is the traditional mood at a Buchanan town hall.

In an effort to have adequate support, Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee Chair Joe Gruters sent a notice to his fellow Republicans, calling on them to attend Saturday.

Although the event doesn’t start until 11 a.m., Gruters’ email message asks Republicans to come early.

“Doors open at 9 and we need Republicans packing the first rows,” the state House District 73 representative said to his GOP brethren. “We are expecting a full house!!”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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