Gerald Ford got me into politics.
It was during my late high school years when President Richard Nixon’s shenanigans played out daily in the greatest live television ever, the Watergate hearings.
As a high school junior, I found it all fascinating. Mom and Dad were proud blue-collar Democrats, and I recall both, especially Mom, yelling at the TV screen every time Nixon’s face appeared on ABC News.
I was drawn to politics. I didn’t take it all that seriously. My first chance to vote was in 1976, a month after my 18th birthday, and it went to President Ford. Why? Two reasons:
— He was from Michigan. I mean, c’mon. That sealed the deal right there.
— Ford seemed like a genuine, nice guy. Funny. Disarming. The kind of man you wanted to see succeed.
I stayed semi-interested in politics, reading about the Michigan Legislature in the Detroit Free Press.
As newspaper writing seeped into my system, I naturally morphed some interest in local government. Three assignments a small-town newspaper reporter in northern Michigan can count on:
— Local cops.
— Local politics/government.
— Deer hunting photos.
I became proficient with two of those, which is why you never read about local cops here. Har har.
Truth is, local politics kinda grew on me. First in Big Rapids, Michigan, and then at the Chronicle, I started paying attention to the rhythm of politics and how that impacts what the local decision-makers do.
I very much enjoy local politics. Don’t care much for the national or state stuff, but I can study city council decisions all day.
I’ve been writing about Citrus County elections for a very long time. Been covering the County Commission in some form for over 30 years.
It’s not a chore. Writing about politics is a passion. Writing about Citrus County politics is my way of life. God has chosen this path for me, at least for today. I try to honor him in the way I go about doing it.
What a cool career.
Not getting heavy during Thanksgiving Week, but some observations:
— Most politicians are honest. It’s really unfair to assume an elected official is dishonest simply because he/she is a politician. Yet, we do it. Well, it’s a misnomer. Most do the best they can.
— Zoning cases are the truest form of local government there is. I learned this, incredibly, at a very early age while still in college.
My newspaper editor gave me what was considered a dog beat — city council of the town where the college was located. That’s the beat all fifth-year seniors received under the premise we’d been around town long enough to have a clue how things worked.
That’s where I attended my first zoning meeting. I was mesmerized by the process. Both sides gave their arguments, and one side won. I don’t recall the details, but the people sitting near me left unhappy.
It didn’t take me long to learn that stories about conflict between city residents and university students were of deep interest to the college community, so I wrote those stories.
Local government is constantly presented with conditions of conflict and it’s the job of politicians to sort them out.
— Government is complicated. Extremely complicated and getting harder to follow every day. The rules are insane. Funding comes with a twisted array of strings attached. Schools are under the thumb of the Legislature and can’t spend a dime without following procedures in a three-inch manual.
While I appreciate folks who have simple solutions, there is absolutely nothing simple about the government.
— I spent YEARS writing about the hospital board here in Citrus County. I don’t think I learned a thing. Look. Some politics isn’t all that fun. Ugh. Let’s move on.
— The best thing about local politics is the ability for citizens to participate. That is really something we all should be thankful for. Regardless of position on this or that, our local politicians want to hear from citizens during public meetings.
I have learned the value of interaction between elected persons and citizens. It fosters trust and goodwill.
I know it’s not always easy around here. We’re all trying to figure it out a day at a time.
I’m thankful we’re figuring it out together.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.