A New Bern town hall meeting Saturday grew heated as many audience members walked out on N.C. Rep. Michael Speciale following an exchange about women’s marches across the state.
Speciale (R-Dist. 3) spoke at the Craven County Courthouse Saturday evening as part of a three-day trip covering each of the three counties he represents – Craven, Pamlico and Beaufort. The three term House member billed the town hall meetings as offering “brief informative talk on legislative activities during this year’s session followed by a question and answer session.”
The exchange that prompted the walkout began with a question from a woman in the audience concerning comments Speciale posted to his Facebook page in late January criticizing the Washington D.C. Women’s March, which was held on Jan. 21.
“The march WAS A JOKE. Hey, offended snowflakes, the march was not about women or women's rights, it was about pushing a liberal agenda,” Speciale said in the Facebook post. “Pro-life women not allowed! There were, however, women dressed as vaginas, and little girls holding signs with the 'F' word and more.”
During Saturday’s town hall meeting, the audience member, whose name has not been available, asked Speciale if he would like to clarify his remarks and mentioned similar women’s marches in Raleigh and New Bern.
“You are here so we can hold you accountable, so I’m going to give you the opportunity to do that,” she told Speciale. “In January you called the women’s marches a joke. Six hundred people here in New Bern that marched would probably not agree with you. My mom and I marched in Raleigh and there were thousands of women there who didn’t think it was very funny. So I just want to know if you want to apologize for that, If you want to explain whether or not your problem is with women or if it’s with all First Amendment rights, if that’s what your problem is.”
Her comments drew applause from some in the audience.
Speciale responded that he was not going to apologize. He said he did not “denigrate the marches.” His response drew applause from others in the audience.
“What I did was make some comments on my Facebook page about the Washington march," he commented.
“Why?” a number of crowd members asked.
“I don’t apologize for my comments,” Speciale replied, drawing jeers from many in the audience. “I said the march was a joke, I said it was disgusting and I stand by that. There were women wearing hats shaped like their body parts. There were women walking around … it was disgusting ... It was not a women’s march, it was a leftist march to push the leftist agenda.”
Following Speciale’s comments, about half the audience stood and walked out of the room.
“It’s not a matter of opinion on that march,” Speciale continued. “There was videos with little girls, young girls younger than my granddaughters holding signs right next to their mothers with the four letter 'F' word and vulgarities and everything on it. I’m sorry, that’s not what parents do with their daughters... It had nothing to do with the march in Raleigh, it had nothing to do with the march in New Bern, because I knew nothing about the march in Raleigh or the march in New Bern.”
Not everyone at the meeting was opposed to Special’s comments. Audience member Carl Mischka, who has been active in Republican politics in Craven County, said he supported the representative’s viewpoint.
“We were in D.C. and watched that march and I will echo everything you said or the news media said negative,” he told Speciale. “...I’m sorry that this particular hall has become as partisan as it has but I’m glad that you stepping up in Pamlico County and in Beaufort County the last two night exhibited much less of this. I guess their Democratic websites aren’t as strong urging opposition. The question is, will you keep running and keep representing us, because we need you?”
During a phone interview Monday, Speciale said he stood by his town hall comments.
“I was asked a question. The comment was that I made disparaging remarks about women’s marches, which I did not, I commented on one march in Washington. I have no opinion on the marches in Raleigh or New Bern because I didn’t even know about them.
“I said it was to promote a leftist agenda because there were no women allowed in who had pro-life signs. No conservative women were allowed to take part. The last time I checked they were women also.”
Speciale also reiterated his views of those who took part in the Washington march.
“They had hats shaped like vaginas, some of the women had what was supposed to be menstrual blood on their pants; it was disgusting.”
Speciale said he had no problem with citizens speaking out against his views.
“I represent them too, so if they want to be upset that’s fine. As long as they don’t disrupt the meeting I have no problem with people expressing their opinion.”
Speciale said he believed the walkout by audience members was planned.
“I got an email saying they were all told to come wearing blue shirts and to disrupt. But it didn’t work."
One of the audience members who walked out of the meeting, Neil Holliday, disputed Speciale’s assertion.
“That’s ridiculous, the walkout wasn’t orchestrated. I have no knowledge of anything like that at all," he stated.
Holliday said he considered himself a “middle of the road” conservative who has grown increasingly concerned by some of the more outrageous claims and actions of far right politicians.
“It’s very frustrating," he said. "I would think women anywhere, no matter what their political beliefs, would be disturbed by what he (Speciale) said.”
Speciale has gained a reputation as one of the most conservative legislators in the North Carolina House.
In February he co-sponsored a bill to drop a provision in the state Constitution that prohibits secession. He has also sponsored changes that would repeal the section in the state Constitution that allows the state to regulate the carrying of concealed weapons.