Time to get this party started
Now it’s their turn.
I’ve spent many waking hours in recent weeks writing about the myriad challenges facing our community heading into this very significant election.
Our blogs have discussed roads, zoning, taxes, crazy growth, county commission courtesy and whether the commissioners follow sound policy in their decisions (mixed bag).
Just Wright Citrus readers have heard plenty from me and you’ve responded in kind.
We haven’t heard from the candidates collectively. That's about to change.
The Citrus County Chronicle candidate’s forum is 6 p.m. today (Thursday) at the fairgrounds auditorium on U.S. 41 in Inverness. Doors open at 5 p.m.
The forum will feature all the locally contested primary races — County Judge, Congressional District 12, House District 23, School Board District 5, County Commission Districts 2 and 4.
Questions to candidates and the order of appearance remain a closely guarded secret until forum time. (Over the years at least one or two candidates would call me on forum day to find out their place in the order. Never gave it up, not even to the state senator who hung up on me and complained to Gerry Mulligan, who didn't know what the heck the guy was talking about. I'm batting 1.000.)
At the Chronicle’s request, I’ll be asking questions of county commission candidates in both districts. I reviewed them Wednesday with editor Jeff Bryan and I think we have the bases covered.
The forum will be livestreamed on the Just Wright Citrus Facebook page. (So says a knowledgeable friend who promises me this will work.)
Now that formalities are out of the way, there’s this:
I cannot over emphasize the importance of tonight's forum in the campaign pace that will follow.
Some have said the forum's a little early, and it is. After all, ballot qualifying ended just two weeks ago. We’re only getting started and already the political event of the season is here.
I look at it two ways.
One, with vote-by-mail and early voting, the Aug. 23 primary will be here before you know it. If trends continue, and there’s no reason to think they won’t, half the ballots will be cast before primary day. It’s a really short time frame.
Second, this start gives us a real measuring stick with candidates on the big issues moving forward. Community organizations still have forums or meet-the-candidate events yet to conduct. What those groups learn at the Chronicle forum will help shape questions for their own events.
So, the forum has real possibilities, and that’s good news because it’s our first significant dive into the candidates. Same for candidates, who will have access to hundreds of voters in one spot.
I love this stuff. Along with just enjoying the heck out of local politics, I’m also a romantic for small town charm. The Chronicle forum at the auditorium oozes it.
Due to the pandemic, we haven’t had a true Chronicle forum in four years. So much has changed since then. Growth, roads, repaving gripes, taxes, affordable places to live, parkway opening — we can go on and on. This place is entirely different.
We have much to discuss in all the races between now and the Aug. 23 primary. The Chronicle forum is the place to start.
Some things to consider:
— Show up early. Doors open at 5 p.m. While the speeches and answering questions are interesting, the real interaction occurs with attendees wandering through the auditorium stopping at candidate tables. Give yourself plenty of time to do that.
— When candidates are on the stage speaking, please no gab in the back. Said for a friend and everyone in the building who isn’t the gabber. (And, yeah, I have zero belief that plea will make any difference.)
— This goes without saying, so of course I’ll say it: Be nice to the candidates. They’ll be very nervous. Most have never spoken to a crowd the size of what normally attends these things.
— Along those lines, watch to see how well they respond in front of that big crowd. The rehearsed speeches are one thing; answering questions is another animal.
Why is that important? Sometimes boards get into heated discussions in front of big crowds. We want elected officials who think well on their feet and can keep up with the debate.
— Take notes. I’m not joking. Several of these candidates will be introducing themselves to a large swath of Citrus County for the first time. It’s easy to forget what someone says, so keep track. You’ll be glad at voting time.
— Finally, please, give these candidates your attention. Running for office is incredibly difficult, expensive and can take an emotional toll. This is a big night for them. Let’s come out to encourage and support those who have embraced these community challenges on our behalf.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.