Editorial: Lawson is making a good impression as a congressman
The atmosphere in Washington is extremely partisan and highly toxic.
And there is absolutely nothing to suggest that will change anytime soon.
But that still hasn’t deterred U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.
The freshman congressman remains doggedly determined to find some way to foster bipartisanship in the nation’s capital.
“It’s hard to believe that in America, we (in Congress) can’t come together to work on your behalf,” Lawson said during a recent town hall meeting at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Downtown Campus.
It was a theme that Lawson, who honed his persona as a political moderate during years as a rural Gasden County Democrat in the Florida Legislature, emphasized throughout the town hall meeting.
• “The partisan bickering has got to stop.”
• “I’m going to continue to forge relationships with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”
• “It’s about learning how to work together. After all, it wasn’t one party that got (America) to the moon. It was the whole country working together.”
• “I could stay there and just fight, fight, fight (with the other side). Or I can work to try and get things done for you.”
• “I’ve never been a partisan guy.”
• “One of the ways to get things accomplished is to learn to work with others in Congress.”
All in all, it was heartening to hear.
And it brought to mind a prediction.
It was one that was made last fall by the Times-Union editorial board in endorsing Lawson’s successful bid to replace controversial incumbent Corrine Brown as the 5th Congressional District representative:
“Lawson,” we wrote, “will be a studious workhorse in Congress. He will not be a self-aggrandizing showhorse.”
Sure enough, that’s the role that Lawson is embracing on Capitol Hill.
Just months into his first term in Congress, Lawson has grasped the importance of making a good first impression with constituents.
DIVERSE AUDIENCE, CONCERNS
That was clearly on display during Lawson’s town hall meeting, which drew an engaged, diverse and civil audience that politely peppered the congressman with substantive questions.
The topics included:
• Veterans issues.
• The future of Obamacare.
• President Donald Trump’s budget proposals.
• The role of charter schools.
• America’s recent missile attack on Syria.
• Second Amendment rights.
• The ongoing effort to improve conditions at Eureka Garden and other public housing sites in Jacksonville.
• Residential concerns about being exposed to harmful chemicals.
• Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ possible push to toughen laws on marijuana possession.
• The need to employ more “smart justice” strategies to reduce America’s massive prison population.
Lawson addressed the inquiries in thoughtful, respectful and largely detailed fashion — and he was refreshingly frank, as well.
For example, while Lawson said he supported Trump’s decision to fire missiles into Syria after the Syrian leadership used chemical weapons on civilians, he candidly added that “whether (the missiles) did anything, I don’t know. But we had to do something.”
And Lawson wasn’t afraid to take some pointed shots at President Trump.
Lawson said Trump’s proposed budget contained cuts that would dramatically “damage the quality of life of many Americans.”
And Lawson drew chuckles when he dryly suggested that Trump “was shocked that he actually won” the presidency.
A SIMPLE VOW
The isolated Trump-bashing aside, Lawson wisely spent most of the town hall session driving home a simple vow:
He won’t forget why he’s in Washington — or the role he should be playing in D.C.
When a veteran from St. Augustine complimented Lawson on hosting a town hall — and criticized at length the congressman in her actual district, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, for refusing to do the same — Lawson artfully avoided any direct reference to Rutherford and focused instead on his willingness to help any citizen.
“We don’t look at (congressional district) lines,” Lawson told the veteran.
“You can always work with my office. And we’ll be happy to help.”
And near the end of the town hall meeting, Lawson assured the audience that he would remain accessible and visible in the district.
“I can promise you that if I lose this office,” the congressman said, “it won’t be because I haven’t been supporting the people (of the Fifth District).”
They were stirring words.
And Lawson will have numerous opportunities between now and the 2018 election season to actually live up to them.
But they offered promising hints that Lawson will remain more workhorse than showhorse in Washington.