It was a hot time in the old town Thursday night for the Chronicle’s candidate forum at the fairgrounds in Inverness. Let’s break it down:
(What follows is from complete memory. I didn’t take a single note. And, no, I’m not going to watch the video the same night because that just isn’t healthy.)
— First time I’ve attended the Chronicle forum while not a Chronicle employee. I’ve been going to these since 1988.
—Nice turnout. I estimated 400. It would whittle away as the night wore on, but I saw a lot of interaction between attendees and candidates.
— Retired Judge Patricia Thomas, a member of the Chronicle Editorial Board, was moderator and did a fantastic job. I’ve known Trish for a long time, and we have stories. She is one of those community leaders with whom I have absolute trust and faith.
Gerry Mulligan moderated these forums for many years and short of his smiling face, Judge Thomas proved Thursday she’s perfect for the role.
— First up was county judge candidates Ed Spaight and Lisa Yeager. They were each given five minutes with no questions. Running for judge is a tough gig. They can’t have an opinion on ANYTHING. It’s basically background…and that’s it.
But the Chronicle forum gave these two a huge boost by scheduling them first with a full and attentive crowd.
— Next up were the Congressional District 12 candidates: Gus Bilirakis, Jack Martin and Sid Preskitt. Bilirakis is the incumbent; most people don’t know that because we’ve been pushed geographically to the south in this new district, picking up an incumbent we have little knowledge of.
County Republican Chairman Mike Moberley earlier introduced me to Bilirakis, and my first impression was that’s a rather pleasant guy. He said constituent service — something noticeably lacking in these parts the last eight years — is a top priority and that he will likely open a district office in Citrus County.
I know Congress is all about national politics — he bragged about having Donald Trump’s endorsement, so take that where you will — but wouldn’t it be nice to have a congress person who can find Homosassa without GPS?
It’s going to be fun getting to know Bilirakis. A Democrat, Kimberly Walker, is also in the race so this one is going to November.
— This was our first real chance to see the four School Board District 5 candidates and, well, there’s definitely some contrast.
Deborah Daniels and Joe Faherty both came prepared and energized. Incumbent Linda Powers, who is a quiet talker, was hard to hear at times. And Mary Seader told us there’s a problem with kids dressing up like animals, or something like that.
(One of these four is a charter member of the Library Guy Gang. Take a guess.)
— The House District 23 race doesn’t even make sense anymore. With all the revisions in this race, it’s surreal to see Tod Cloud, Rep. Ralph Massullo and Paul Reinhardt up there. How did we get to this?
Anyway, Cloud kept his sense of humor while Reinhardt lobbed varied criticisms. The whole thing seemed silly.
— County Commission Districts 2 and 4 wrapped up the night. I'll review the tape before getting into details, because I was asking questions and barely keeping up with that simple chore let alone recall the details of what candidates said.
I know they impressed me. I had challenged each of these candidates to rise to the occasion and they did.
In District 2, both Diane Finegan and Stacey Worthington brought their best stuff. They kept the conversation going; their differences in ideas and approach were clear. Anyone who watches the video of that race will likely reach that same conclusion.
District 4, Rebecca Bays, John Murphy Jr. and Winn Webb all knew what they were talking about.
(Even when I got lost in the rotation and tried to move onto the next question before allowing Bays to answer. Asking questions of more than two candidates spells trouble.)
And, yes, I did ask the Chronicle question about whether Murphy being married to the daily newspaper publisher poses a potential conflict. Both Bays and Webb said that’s for voters to decide and Murphy, as he’s done with me twice now, explained he has no role in the editorial department and he expects the same treatment in the news pages as anyone else.
I’ll take that route as well. It’s the voter’s call, so I consider the Murphy-Chronicle matter closed.
—That’s not much forum detail but I’ll have more after breaking down the video.
I’m a Citrus County politics geek. It’s what I do.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.