Time to take this political show on the road.
Local politics now moves into the community realm, with four meet-the-candidate events scheduled over the next three weeks.
It starts today (Tuesday) in Sugarmill Woods and has stops at Pine Ridge, Citrus Springs and Beverly Hills.
While the Chronicle and Citrus County Chamber of Commerce forums get all the big publicity, it’s the community candidate nights that have always caught my attention.
Candidates are stumped more by questions at these forums than anywhere. They can get geared up about budgets, road projects, growth, taxes, that sort of thing. But when a local citizen asks a question specific to their neighborhood, it can get a little interesting.
We are a community of individual communities. The local issues in Pine Ridge are different from Sugarmill Woods or Beverly Hills, and candidates need to know that if they expect to become effective commissioners.
These events also give residents a chance to speak 1-on-1 with candidates for county commission, school board, Florida House, county judge and the like.
In Citrus County, candidates for office are not strangers in TV ads who only show up for photo ops and canned speeches. Candidates are our neighbors, friends, fellow community partners. They generally have the county’s best interest at heart, though they obviously disagree on what that looks like and how to get there.
A forum gives ordinary folk a chance to tell a candidate directly how he feels on an issue, and to drill down on the candidate’s viewpoint.
With that in mind, a few points about these meet-the-candidate events.
— Attendance isn’t mandatory but it sure helps. Candidates feed off live events. Those live events aren’t so fun when most of the people showing up are supporters of theirs and their competitors.
— We haven’t heard much from the school board District 5 candidates, so these meet-and-greets are the perfect time to do so. Incumbent Linda Powers faces two difficult challengers in Deborah Daniels and Joe Faherty, and a fourth candidate who’s sorta out there.
— Have questions. No question is out of the ordinary. If you want to know a candidate’s views on library displays, ask. If your concern is the amount of taxes paid, ask. Support the sheriff’s budget? Now’s the time to ask potential new commissioners how they’ll handle it moving forward.
— Don’t let candidates off the hook with their answers either. I’m speaking specifically of the five county commission candidates. All five should be well versed by now in every single issue we’re facing — roads, growth, traffic, environment, taxes, affordable housing, etc.
Specific questions require specific answers. Candidates, particularly the weaker ones, are NOTORIOUS for squeezing out of difficult questions by giving vague, one-size-fits-all answers.
Here’s an example. “Candidate A, under what circumstances would you support a tax increase, if ever?”
Response: “I don’t think with gas prices being what they are, and inflation causing groceries to cost so much more, now is not the time to raise taxes. Before voting for any new taxes, I plan to really go through the budget piece by piece and find true savings, so we won’t need to raise taxes!”
I’ve heard variations of that, even this year. It’s poppycock. The county budget is online for all to see. Why does a candidate have to get elected BEFORE finding budget savings?
You get the idea. These folks want your vote. Make ‘em earn it.
Here’s a list of the upcoming meet-the-candidate events:
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.