Panda politics and the sheriff
Nothing shocks a politician more than when his own people turn on him.
Sheriff Mike Prendergast is experiencing some of that after his agency assisted in the federal arrest last Monday of the so-called Sedition Panda, a Lecanto man who’s accused of breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, wearing a bear head.
The Citrus County Sheriff’s Office isn’t the agency charging Jesse James Rumson with multiple offenses in relation to the Capitol riot. That would be the U.S. Attorney.
And you’d expect that local law enforcement assists the feds who are in town to arrest someone. That’s what Prendergast’s agency did.
The sheriff, who routinely issues statements surrounding arrests or special detail, did that as well last Monday on the agency’s Facebook page.
In part, this is what he said:
“As a true American patriot, I respect those who uphold their first amendment rights — but do so without causing a dangerous, mass riot and ensuing mob that placed other individual’s lives in jeopardy. Actions like that of Rumson impeded the rights of fellow citizens during a legislative session and goes against everything our nation stands for.”
Now. I don’t know whether the sheriff was purposely making a political statement or not, but it’s clear many Citrus County citizens took it that way and responded to his Facebook post in kind.
A few examples:
— “Seriously? Our non-transparent sheriff is supporting the Capitol breach lie? Yep we see you Prendergast!”
— “I have no words for this action taken by our local sheriff.”
— “No vote for you Mr. Prendergast you are a traitor.”
— “Goodbye Prendergast, you are not the people’s sheriff.”
You get the drift.
There were a handful of pro-sheriff comments that I’ll get to in a minute.
Prendergast is somewhat of an enigma Citrus County politician. He arrived on the scene in 2016 with much high-ranking state government experience but nothing on the local level.
He became the front runner for sheriff following Phil Royal’s tragic death and was easily elected. For four years, I heard grumbling about how he was going to be a one-term sheriff and someone would unseat him in 2020.
Well, that didn’t happen. He won an election fair and square and is hugely popular among Republicans, particularly supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Remember when I wrote about Prendergast calling me out during a pro-Trump Republican club meeting? Prendergast had those folks eating out of his hand.
Now many of those same Republicans are ready to toss him to the dogs.
Those anti-Prendergast comments aren’t coming from people who never liked the guy. Rather, it’s from voters who thought the sheriff was one of them (whatever that is), only to find out otherwise.
Prendergast’s statement where he acknowledges the Capitol riot is a huge blow to the ego of Citrus County right-wingers who claim falsely that it never happened. For Prendergast to not only assist in the arrest, but then to proudly announce it seems unconscionable to many of these people.
(By the way, the post generated over 600 comments. Most of them were silly bickering about Jan. 6 and, boy, am I grateful the Just Wright Citrus conversation doesn’t turn ugly.)
Some people gave the sheriff an attaboy:
— “Great job! It takes real people to stand up for what is right and follow through with action. Kudos to the CCSO and our sheriff.”
— “I am having a hard time putting my feelings down like this, so I’ll just make it short. Thank you for your hard work in protecting our country and arresting this man.”
— “The first time I’m appreciating something Prendergast has to say. Even a broken clock is right a couple of times a day.”
I don’t know if Prendergast plans to seek a third term next year or not. But I have a good feeling that the next time he’s standing before a roomful of Citrus County Republicans, he may not be greeted with the warm fuzzies he’s used to.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.