Despite the sunshine and balmy weather that lured several Brazil residents outside on Saturday, a crowd of approximately 70 opted to stay indoors at the Clay County Cracker Barrel meeting at the YMCA.
County residents joined members of the meeting co-sponsors, the Clay County Farm Bureau and Brazil Chamber of Commerce, along with four state legislators. Republican Sen. Richard Bray of District 37, Democrat Rep. Clyde Kersey of District 43, Republican Rep. Andrew Thomas of District 44 and Democrat Rep. Vern Tincher of District 46 were on hand to hear local concerns. Republican Sen. John Waterman of District 39 did not attend.
"I thought we had a real good meeting and a lot of questions were answered," said Jack Knust, President of the Clay County Farm Bureau. "Last year we didn't like the way it went. (This year) everyone was real courteous to the legislators and each other."
Lingering longer than any other politician at the event, Thomas told The Brazil Times he was pleased with the meeting.
"I loved it. This is the reason I wanted to become a state representative. These are real people with real concerns.
"There was a lot of concern about the state fiscal situation, which is understandable," he said. "We still have three months to review these proposals."
Tincher also said he appreciates the opportunity to meet with his constituents in a public forum.
"You get a lot of input from citizens. Education is a big concern," he said. "Sometimes you can fill in the details and the logic behind some of the legislation.
"I think it's advantageous to the legislators and the constituents. With four of us here, it kind of gives a different viewpoint."
Although two or three additional Cracker Barrel meetings will be scheduled in the next few months, David Schopmeyer, Legislative Liason Person for Clay County Farm Bureau and the state legislature, explained the county had to set up Saturday's meeting in early January because of the legislators' limited simultaneous availability.
Several of those who attended thanked Schopmeyer and shared their positive reactions, although some were disappointed all questions couldn't be addressed in the two-hour time frame. But Schopmeyer pointed out Clay County must compete for time with other counties in the legislators' districts.
"Everybody wants them on Saturday mornings," he said.
From their vantage point serving refreshments in the kitchen, Mary Lou Dietz and Winnie Knust of Clay County Farm Bureau were able to gauge the reactions of audience members as they listened to the morning's speakers. Reflecting on the event as they cleaned up while several attendees patiently waited to speak to the representatives after the meeting's official end, the two women agreed the politicians were able to provide the audience with a bevy of information.
"Everyone asked a lot of good questions," Knust said.
"I think they're really concerned about the time issue. Like it was said, it's an emotional thing."
"I enjoyed it and thought it was a good meeting," Dietz said.
Kersey joined his fellow legislators in believing the Cracker Barrel created a beneficial dialog. He said daylight saving time and cuts in education funding seemed to be top concerns, along with increasing speed limits, an unforeseen discussion topic.
"That's the beauty of this kind of meeting," he said of audience members' questions. "That's the way democracy is supposed to work."