Sen. Portman talks about town halls, 'incivility' on both sides of the aisle

Sen. Portman talks about town halls, 'incivility' on both sides of the aisle
(Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, while addressing members of the media Friday in Cleveland, spoke about the "incivility" on both sides of the political aisle, and how it hampers bipartisan efforts.

After a private round table with Cleveland-area business leaders about tax reform, Portman took questions from the media. He addressed questions about a Lincoln Day Dinner in Sandusky earlier in the week where only Republicans were allowed to buy tickets. Portman spoke at the event.

"The idea was it's a Republican gathering, it's not my gathering, it's Republican club ... they chose to say that you had to be a Republican to go to the Republican gathering and that was their decision, not mine," said Portman.  "I'll do whatever you want, (I told them), if you want people to come in who are outside gathering, that's fine with me."

Cleveland 19 confirmed with the GOP chairmen of Seneca and Sandusky counties -- the groups who put on the event -- that the decision wasn't made by Portman.

"After careful consideration I made the decision … it is a partisan event not a public event," said Justin Smith, the GOP Chairman of the Sandusky County Republican Party.

Smith said his goal was to guarantee a peaceful event and guarantee that Portman would be respected.

Cleveland 19 asked if the dinner was always only restricted to Republicans. Smith said it wasn't a tradition, but that this was a unique situation.

"We've never had a situation like this before and I've been the chairman of the party for nine years," he said. "This is new and I would find it very disrespectful to the senator and Republican party faithful to have to deal with people who are disruptive."

Portman referenced several times the "incivility" and lack of respect he is now seeing on both sides of the aisle.

"I think both sides are making that more difficult I think we need to tone it down," said Portman. "We're talking about the need for bi partisanship on tax reform and I expressed the concern that right now that's harder to find."

Portman said his goals include things like finding an effective way to combat the opioid epidemic and tax reform, in order to make Ohio more competitive and favorable to businesses who can create jobs.

"People yelling at each other is not going to get us to a point where we can make progress on those issues," said Portman.

Portman also defended his own availability to constituents, saying he's out and about all the time.

"I represent 11.5 million people and there are lots of different points of view out there and I try to hear them all. I do typically do tele-town hall meetings once a month or more I've had two in the past couple weeks in fact," said Portman. "I listen to people I'm hearing them trust me. Every day I get a report from my staff how many phone calls, how many emails, what did they say, what did they care about. We do have differences of opinion in this state and right now my biggest concern is a lack of civility on both sides."

He also pointed out that he has frequent meetings like the one with local business leaders held on Friday, and another private town hall style at a factory later on Friday.

"I want to be sure they're constructive sessions and this one today was about the details of tax reform and I had the greater Cleveland partnership put it together," said Portman.

Portman also talked about the importance of and need for a free and independent press.

"The press is absolutely essential to the freedoms we all enjoy because a democracy is based on a free press and being able to discuss things honestly and freely," said Portman. "My view is, if you look at our country versus other countries, one thing that distinguishes us versus other countries one thing that distinguishes us is having a free and robust discussion through the media."

Portman and his staff said at this point there isn't a public town hall meeting scheduled for Northeast Ohio, but his staff said they would let Cleveland 19 know when one is scheduled in the future.

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