Sometimes things just happen.
Several people in the last week sent me images similar to the one with today's blog.
They depict Sheriff Mike Prendergast's personal Facebook page posting a photo of a ballcap with a message offensive to Democrats. By posting the photo, one could argue Prendergast endorses the message.
My instinct said stay away. For one thing, I've never personally seen this ballcap post on Prendergast's Facebook page. We are not Facebook "friends," though I did send him a request.
So even as folks last week sent me screenshots of Sheriff Mike Prendergast’s personal Facebook page, showing a ballcap (he’s not wearing it) that says, “I’d rather be an American than a Democrat,” I let it alone.
Over the weekend, though, a friend texted me about it. This is a longtime community leader and registered Democrat who pays very little attention to politics.
She was offended because the sheriff should know better.
“There are a lot of people in our community who do a lot for this area who are Democrats,” my friend wrote. “Lots of people won’t say that out loud because of people in power and in a position to make life miserable by making statements like that."
She added: “He has no right to question my being an American, or a positive citizen in this community because I’m a registered Democrat.”
My friend is correct.
Go back to last week. Some folks sent me screenshots of Prendergast’s Facebook page that showed he changed his profile picture to the “I’d rather be an American than a Democrat” ballcap, which anyone can buy online for $14.99 (along with equally offensive messages about Republicans). Can’t tell from the posting whether the sheriff owns such a hat or simply supports the message.
(The link provided to me wasn't working later Sunday so I'm guessing the ballcap is history.)
So the question is, did he post a photo of this hat to anger Citrus County Democrats? Or was it to shore up support among Republicans who aren’t happy that he assisted in the FBI’s arrest of the Sedition Panda of Lecanto and then talked about it on Facebook?
Let’s take the first since that’s the easiest.
I hope not! It’s not like any of a thousand Republicans who needle Democrats when they get the chance. Prendergast is the chief law enforcement officer in the county. He’s a leading politician, someone whose opinion carries a lot of weight.
The sheriff deciding it would be funny to insult Democrats is not the decision a leader makes. Someone who cares about his community wouldn’t antagonize his neighbors for sport.
Some people on the Citrus Coffee Coalition Facebook page even speculated Prendergast was hacked because no one in his position would be so mean-spirited in public.
So it’s unlikely Prendergast posted that hat to rib Democrats, though ribbed they are.
More likely it’s the second reason. Prendergast wants to remind Republicans he’s one of them.
Sheriffs are somewhat political and Prendergast is no different. He’s a regular at county GOP club meetings and until recently was quite popular.
Then the Sedition Panda arrest happened and Prendergast went to Facebook saying participants in the Jan. 6 riot on the Capitol had gone too far. In doing so, Prendergast separated himself from Citrus County Trump Republicans, who had proudly counted the sheriff as one of their own.
The same people who supported the sheriff totally are now calling him a RINO — Republican in Name Only (which, if you listen to Prendergast talk for 10 minutes, is clearly absurd).
The posting of a baseball cap that says Democrats aren’t Americans is Prendergast’s reminder that he can still be a sarcastic, edgy Republican.
That might work for his base, but it doesn't play well. The leaders of this community aren't known by the D or R associated with their names. It's for their dedication and hard work to make our community shine. The stuff Americans do. Why would the sheriff say Democrats are less American than their Republican siblings? Look around Citrus County. That is clearly not the case.
We face a ton of challenges in this county and many of them are on Prendergast’s plate. We saw the sheriff participate in a leadership summit last week where these and other challenges were discussed. Everyone agreed to move forward together.
Sheriff Prendergast brings a ton to the table. We need his leadership.
That message of unity doesn’t mesh with a mean-spirited Facebook post. Just sayin’.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.