Sheriff Mike Prendergast is running for a third term, as he announced last week. No doubt he’ll be hitting the campaign trail shortly to raise funds and support for the 2024 race.
But has there ever been a Citrus County politician so much in-your-face to voters of the opposing political party?
A few weeks ago, several people sent me screenshots of the sheriff’s personal Facebook page that included the “FJB” logo.
Now. We can be grownups, or we can be children. Grownups know what “FJB” means. Most decent people wouldn’t say it in mixed company. Most decent people wouldn’t say it at all.
I wouldn’t normally let anyone use that term in my blog conversation. Not sure how a “FMP” comment would play on the sheriff’s page.
In case it’s not clear: The sheriff has a crude, rude, offensive post about President Joe Biden. It’s on his personal Facebook page, but last I checked, elected officials of Prendergast’s type are on duty 24/7.
We’ve touched on it before, how this sheriff has no problem alienating half the voting population. First, Prendergast was all Donald Trump, Trump, Trump. Then, when his agency assisted the FBI in arresting a Jan. 6 Capitol rioter, and the sheriff bragged about it, the pro-Trump GOP crowd in Citrus County turned on him.
Since then, Prendergast has done his best cozying back up to the pro-Trump batch of the Republican Party.
Folks who sent me the “FJB” screenshot were aghast but I’m not.
Prendergast is no fool, and he knows politics. Being nice to Democrats may earn him a merit badge, but his political bottom line rests solely with the Republican Party.
As to his current (Calvin Adams, Dave Vincent) or future opponents, history is not their friend.
First off, good luck defeating an incumbent constitutional officer. That’s a job for life unless you’re really getting under the skin of voters and well-connected donors.
I can remember it happening only once, and the opponent in that circumstance was heavily financed by a special interest unhappy with the incumbent. So, it wasn’t exactly grassroots campaigning.
Unless you’re a horrible sheriff, re-election is practically in the bag. Every Citrus County sheriff, including the current one, had his detractors, but I don’t recall in over 30 years any incumbent having a serious challenger.
How does that trend end in 2024? Several ways, but here are two:
— Prendergast does something so terrible that his supporters go for someone else. I don’t know whether he’s angered the pro-Trump Republicans enough for them to jump ship in such a dramatic way.
Democrats would choose any decent alternative who didn’t make a habit of insulting their party. Unfortunately, their clout is iffy at best.
My point being voters who supported Prendergast in 2016 and 2020 would need a reason NOT to support him in 2024.
— That is a much steeper climb than most think. Challengers are essentially asking voters to do two things simultaneously: Vote FOR me and AGAINST him.
That’s not going to happen by talking about budgets or transparency.
They might do it with this: “I’m not him.”
It’s a risky move and used poorly can really blow up in a challenger’s face. Basically, a challenger asks the public whether Prendergast presents himself in a way befitting the community. Does he get us? Can he read the room?
The "FJB" post is a litmus test:
Ask yourself, regardless of political background, is it OK for the sheriff to flaunt such disregard for common decency in a public way? Are we, as a community, all right with that from an elected leader?
Maybe we are, but it seems like something we should discuss first. An election is the perfect time for it.
Debating whether the sheriff’s office provides enough timely info about crime in our neighborhoods is one thing. Debating Sheriff Mike Prendergast’s commitment to Citrus Countians — Democrats included — is an entirely different conversation.
Both topics are prime for 2024. I, for one, can’t wait.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.