June is here and that can only mean the Chronicle political forum is right around the corner.
And, boy, are we ready for it.
The Citrus County Chronicle has conducted political forums for the primary and general election since LBJ was president. The primary forums at the county fairgrounds auditorium are huge, raucous evenings where local candidates strut their stuff and citizens get some answers.
We haven’t had one in four years (the photo with today's blog is from the Citrus County Chronicle, 2018). In 2020, during the pandemic, the Chronicle conducted video forums with Digital Hound Media at the Art League theater with limited audiences, and ran the videos online. It was fine for the time, but we missed that audience interaction and the general buzz that’s present at the auditorium forum.
The Chronicle forum returns to the fairgrounds auditorium Thursday, June 30 and for the first time in decades, retired publisher Gerry Mulligan won’t be moderating. My part over the years had been asking questions of candidates, a task I much enjoyed. With my Chronicle retirement in August, I figured that ship had sailed.
Not so. Thanks to an incredible offer from Mulligan’s successor, Trina Murphy, I’ll have a small, but significant, role on June 30 and it’s indicative of where Just Wright Citrus stands in the political conversation today. She wrote about it in last Sunday's Chronicle.
Background, of course:
Of all the actions the Chronicle takes during election season, the two most scrutinized are endorsements and the Chronicle forum. Everyone wants to know who the newspaper endorses, and react either to support or chastise.
For the forum, we always wanted to keep a lid on the questions and even the order of appearance.
Well, you may have heard one of the District 4 county commission candidates, John Murphy, is Trina’s husband. You know that from reading it here, because we broke it down right after John Murphy got into the race.
His candidacy raised immediate conflict of interest issues for the Murphys and the Chronicle: How could we trust the community newspaper’s coverage of the election if a candidate is married to the publisher?
I’ve spoken with both John and Trina about this, and they insist everything is done above board. Trina has made it known that she’s staying out of the race and the news reporters should do what news reporters do.
Look. The Murphys are good stock and there is no reason to doubt their word. But experience also teaches me that perception is 99% of reality in politics, so what people believe makes it true whether it is or isn’t. Especially if an opponent wants to make hay about it.
Trina called me a few weeks ago with an intriguing idea: At the Chronicle forum, to sever any possible connections between the newspaper staff and John Murphy, would I ask questions of the county commission District 4 candidates?
Would I? Heck yeah!
First of all, I’m extremely humbled. I don’t recall the Chronicle ever asking anyone outside the newspaper to participate in the forum in this manner.
But what’s truly exciting is it’s deliberate. It sends a message from the Chronicle and a powerful one at that. To truly show the newspaper has no bias, either real or imagined, the publisher is turning the duty of asking questions in that one race involving her husband over to one of the few people who lives and breathes Citrus County politics, and is not closely associated with any cause or candidate.
(By the way, this isn't bragging. I’m covering my 17th Citrus County general election. Name me somebody, other than Gerry Mulligan or David Arthurs, who can say that.)
Plus, as luck would have it, turns out that District 4 race is a humdinger. Murphy, Rebecca Bays, Winn Webb and the possible late addition of Scott Adams — that’s four diverse individuals with a lot of community recognition right there.
I’ve been a big fan of the Chronicle forum since my first one. There is such an energy in the auditorium, a small-town political rally feel. Candidates save their best stuff for this night and with the forum returning to the auditorium after four years, the public will be geared up.
I know I will. Should be fun!
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.