Playing politics at the county fair
Been so busy dealing with the Library Guy Gang that I almost forgot about the Citrus County Fair, which is next week.
Aahhh, the fair. We need the fair. A week’s worth of fair food, fair critters, fair exhibits, fair midway, fair entertainment.
The Citrus County Fair is a collective reminder of all that is simple and wholesome in our community. The fair is a place generally absent of controversy, though I’m told there’s usually a fair amount of squealing in the swine competition.
I’m the guy who walks through a three-block art festival in 15 minutes, but can spend hours strolling the fair. Meet new people and see old friends.
So, of course, I have fair stories. Two always come to mind.
One is political. The fair is an important time for candidates who will huddle around their political party’s booth asking visitors to sign petition cards. It’s a great way for candidates to speak with the public; you never know who’s walking by.
Now. Unrelated to the fair, I’ve mentioned my disdain for candidates who suddenly start showing up at public meetings, such as the county commission, to offer opinions at the microphone. (The smart candidates know better than to pull that. They sit in the audience and observe.)
My general practice was not to quote candidates at the microphone during these board meetings. Unless the candidate was specifically tied to the issue — a candidate lives in a neighborhood getting a sewer project, for example — it’s just pontificating and I’m not being a party to it.
Not surprisingly, the candidates don’t like it.
One Citrus County Fair night I’m strolling through the Jacobs Building holding the hand of my daughter, Erin, who was probably about 4. We walked by a political party booth where candidates were engaged with passersby.
One county commission candidate — I remember him only by his first name, Vince — stopped me to complain that I didn’t quote him for whatever remarks he had made at a recent meeting.
I suggested he give me a call the next morning to talk about it, and started to walk away. He stopped me and began to complain AGAIN about the same thing.
I looked at him. “Vince,” I said, “I’m with my daughter.”
He apologized next time we saw each other, but I didn’t forget it. Look, I realize it’s a tough job for candidates to get petition signatures, campaigns up and running, fundraising, filling out forms — I get it. I’ve been writing about candidates for a long time and I empathize.
But pick your battle spots. The Citrus County Fair isn’t one of them.
Story two is one of my favorite Citrus County memories.
Writing newspaper stories about the fair is always challenging and every March we’d discuss ways to improve on the year before. A popular solution was something called “reporter’s notebook,” which is, basically, to hang out at the fair for an hour or two and write whatever comes to mind.
So I’m at the fair one day, wandering about, looking for a decent story angle. I saw a boy, about 11, win a live rabbit at some midway game.
That’s cute, I thought. Boy wins bunny at county fair. Reporter notebook material.
I walked up to him and started talking. He said he had won a rabbit the year before playing the very same game.
Are you kidding me? Boy wins bunny two straight years at county fair? I’d struck reporter-notebook gold.
With pen in hand, I asked him: “What did you do with the rabbit you won last year?”
He gave me a funny look.
“I ate him.”
Of course you did, I thought, scratching away the notes.
Welcome to the Citrus County Fair, where dreams come true. Unless you’re a bunny.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.