opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
Ah, that pesky First Amendment.
It cuts both ways, or so we learned this week from Arkansas’ 3rd District Congressman Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and a self-proclaimed “Mexican-American” student named Yardley Leonard.
We also learned that Womack may be a bit of a “fashionista.”
And Leonard, not intending to make a fashion statement (or was he?) while asking difficult question of the Congressman, received more than a stock D.C. Beltway answer.
He got some very personal fashion advice from our usually well-dressed Third District Congressman.
Many, who privately, know our Congressman and his politics says he really loves to “wrap himself in Old Glory” figuratively, not literally, at every opportunity. No one at the recent Town Hall meeting in Fort Smith would have ventured to guess that the Congressman could easily become so testy to a questioner with a standard boiler plate immigration question.
Maybe it was, indeed, as our Congressman suggested, that pesky replica of the Flag of Mexico emblazoned on the young man’s t-shirt that set him off. (This was the same young man who asked to shake the Congressman’s hand prior to asking his question. Our Congressman, always the gentleman, complied. The men shook hands and out came the immigration question.)
Or maybe it was that the young man, who also wore an odd little hat indoors at the forum, never doffed the chapeau, while shaking hands or asking the question of our Congressman. Was it all a matter of fashion and etiquette at this point that elicited the eclectic response?
Whatever it was that set off the Congressman, once he had eloquently and succinctly given a fair and measured response to the young man’s question, the atmosphere changed to chili pepper hot.
We’ve seen our Congressman’s temper before, but not recently, and not from our, dare we say it, mature and veteran Congressman.
It is not easy, we concede, being a Congressman. Or to hold one’s temper. At least not a Congressman like Steve Womack who will tread into these Town Hall meetings, taking on all challengers – Democrats, fellow Republicans, those pesky TEA Party folks. Heck, he’ll even take on Constitutionalist or a Libertarian, should one surface at these Third District “free-for-alls.”
He doesn’t cull the questions. Nor does he hold back on his answers, as evidenced last week. Congressman Womack can give back a snappy answer as good as any intricately written and pre-rehearsed “trap” question is prepared. He proved that last week.
After finishing the young man’s question, Womack, just like TV’s Lt. Frank Columbo, just couldn’t let the situation at hand go without one more comment.
First Congressman Womack said he “didn’t want to put this young man on the spot.” But he did. And here it comes: “It does strike me as a bit odd,” Womack said as he intended to take another question, but changed in midstream to reflect back on his recent encounter with the t-shirt wearing questioner.
“….that I would get a question as to why we shouldn’t just automatically make it legal for people who didn’t come here in a legal circumstance, with a flag of another country draped around his neck.”
Applause erupted. Satiated with audience acceptance with the political putdown, could the Congressman just pass on to the next question? Nope. Nada. No way.
He had the floor and he had more to say. And here it comes.
“I want to stay this to you. (pause) that, this is just some good old friendly advice,” Womack began. One can hear the young man acknowledging the advice with a muffled “Yes.”
The Congressman continues: “If you want to win friends and influence people on the issues that you are talking about, I would suggest a little different approach in terms of my attire when I’m appealing to an audience like this.”
No one went home not entertained. The cyber-space proliferation of the encounter proves that.
But a “fashionista?” Who knew Womack was a fashionista? One really does not know how good or appropriate one will look at a Town Hall, now do they? Not unless our Congressman tells them otherwise.
The Congressman also told us why Republicans are having trouble winning friends and gaining influence among the Hispanic electorate.