Newly elected U.S. Representative Trey Radel is asking Southwest Florida residents to show up and speak out at a series of events for his "Listening Tour."
Over the next month, Radel will be "listening" at five locations. The first two sessions were held this week at Edison State College and the Norris Center in Naples.
"I'm a servant and representative of the people," Radel said last week in announcing the tour. "I want to shake hands and, if they want, hug as many people as possible and listen to their thoughts and opinions and share mine."
The sessions - similar to town hall style meetings, but less stuffy - begin with a brief presentation, followed by questions from the audience.
"I want conversation, debate, discussion," Radel said.
The presentation covers the immediate concerns facing Congress.
"I'll start out with a breakdown of some of the big issues that we will tackle in the next months," he said.
Radel cited passing the budget and dealing with the debt ceiling.
"And, in the bigger picture, what ties into that - whether or not we can come together to work to save Social Security and Medicare," he said.
There also are charts on hand as visual aids.
"To just show a very simple example of how much we spend, how much we take in as a nation and, hopefully, in the end, show how we can all come together, regardless of party affiliation, to find some solutions," Radel said.
He emphasized that people from all political backgrounds are welcome. The majority of the session, however, is devoted to the public.
"I expect a huge variety of questions," Radel said. "Whether its guns or contraceptives, I expect to be asked about a wide variety of things."
Residents are welcome to simply share a concern or idea.
"If they don't want to ask questions - if they want to share an opinion, thoughts, possible solutions, I'm open to that as well," he said.
From their lives and liveihoods, to their children, no topic is off limits.
"I want to be able to take those concerns and thoughts to Washington to better represent them," Radel said.
Even those with no political interest are encouraged to attend.
"Even if you're not that engaged in politics, come - let's meet, let's talk," he said.
The remaining three listening sessions are:
n Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. at Palmetto Pines, 1940 S.W. Ninth Court, Cape Coral
n Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. at Bonita Springs City Hall, 9101 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs
n Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at Rose Auditorium, 180 Heathwood Drive, Marco Island - Radel will be joining an existing commissioner's town hall meeting
"Again, I'm there to meet people and to learn and answer questions, if they have them," he said.
"This is something that we'll do often," Radel said. "I just want to make sure I can be as available as possible."