Beverly Hills, FL—On January 13, seven GOP candidates seeking state-level offices visited Citrus County to attend a candidate forum hosted by the Nature Coast Republican Club and held at the Beverly Hills Lion Club.
The event, originally slated for September, had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Irma.
Originally, according to event materials posted on Facebook, the Nature Coast Republican Club confirmed six candidate attendees early on; for Commissioner of Agriculture, Matt Caldwell and Baxter Troutman; for Attorney General, Jay Fant, and for Governor, Bob White, Bruce Nathan, and Jack Latvala.
Latvala and Fant did not attend the event.
However, the NCRC was also able to secure the attendance of Denise Grimsley, candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture, Ross Spano, candidate for Attorney General, and Don Baldauf, candidate for Governor to meet Citrus County Republican voters. According to a January 12th Facebook post published by the NCRC, Frank White, candidate for Attorney General, was also intending to participate but was a last-minute no-show.
Several elected officials were in the audience of approximately 100 people: State Representative Ralph Massullo, Citrus County Commissioners Jimmie T. Smith, Jeff Kinnard, and Ron Kitchen, as well as Sandy Counts and Linda Powers of the Citrus County School Board.
Candidates were given 2 minutes for an introduction and 1 minute for answers that had been pre-selected by the NCRC.
Commissioner of Agriculture questions focused on consumer affairs, using local tax collectors to process concealed weapons permits, the rising risk of gas pump skimming, among others. Caldwell invoked his past participation in environmental protection efforts with State Senator Charlie Dean and advised the audience to avoid using debit cards at gas pumps. He also cited his strong feelings about both the First and Second Amendments. Grimsley touted her business and legislative record, said she’s in favor of state reciprocity for concealed weapons permits, and viewed the role of Agriculture Commissioner as the “chief consumer advocate.” Troutman advocated using technology on the gas skimmer issue, saying “fight fire with fire.” He also rattled off data points, such as Florida Agriculture accounts for 2 million jobs, in over 300 commodity groups or products. All three candidates have state-level legislative experience.
The sole participant in the Attorney General portion of the forum, Ross Spano, was met with questions ranging from criminal justice reform, the opioid problem, the right of grandparents to visit their grandchildren, the transgender issue facing our public schools, and sanctuary cities. Spano believes that the Attorney General should be able to use the power associated with a Cabinet-level position to confront the opioid problem in an equitable and fair manner, he supports both parental and grandparent visitation rights. And, on the transgender issue, his answer was most adamant, “I support local school districts, but school districts should not supplant the role of the parent” and any push towards public schools assuming a parental role “would get no support from me.”
Finally, the Governor’s portion of the forum showcased three lesser-known candidates, Baldauf, Nathan, and White, none of which have held elected statewide office before.
And, unlike the candidates in the other races, these candidates highlighted their backgrounds and personal stories, philosophical beliefs, and their accessibility rather than focusing on policy or past governmental experience.
Baldauf attempted to connect with the audience by repeatedly mentioning that he was a business owner and a widower, citing that he has both an RV and a Corvette, and depending upon the event dictated which one he uses on the campaign trail. He passed out business cards with only his name and website address citing “that as a businessman you don’t want to give out phone numbers and e-mail addresses on business cards when you want people to go to your website.”
Nathan called “all County Commissioners corrupt” and suggested that they all get kickbacks on the side. He also kept repeating that he has the answer to the health care crisis and that his solution is currently pending a patent but offered no details of such a plan, almost sounding like an infomercial. He brought a framed picture of his family and often shared the picture, as a prop, showing his pride as a husband and father.
White appeared to be the most “conventional” of the “minor” candidates for Governor in attendance, talking more about specific issues than his personal life or unsubstantiated claims, citing his role as chair of the Liberty Caucus for the last 7 years. White spoke about the current campaign system at length, saying that political committees held too much power, could provide unlimited financing to campaigns, and that reform was desperately needed.
None of the Citrus County commissioners in attendance rushed to greet Nathan after the forum concluded.
Also coming to Citrus County this evening, at M&B Farms, is Adam Putnam, the current frontrunner in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Admission is free to the event, but attendees are strongly encouraged to first pre-register on Eventbrite.com. Leon McClellan, main operator of the Lecanto location, mentioned in a recent Facebook post that over 225 people have already registered for the event. But yesterday, Josh Wooten, CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, shared that the number of attendees had jumped up to approximately 500.
The Host Committee includes: Doug and Teresa Alexander, Bud and Linda Allen, Mike and Rebecca Bays, Matt and Missy Brannen, Joe and Dondi Cappuccilli, Dennis and Alice Carlton, Scott and Angie Carnahan, Diane Damron, JJ and Jennifer Grow, Sam Himmel, Dixie and Robyn Hollins, Blake and Kim Hunnicutt, Jim and Carol Kimbrough, Steven and Jewel Lamb, Reba Mazak, Dale and Mary McClellan, Daniel and Andrea McClellan, Leon and Jessica McClellan, Joe and Amy Meek, Lisa Moore, Kelly Rice, Larry and Nancy Rooks, Wilton and Kathy Simpson, James Sutton, and John and Ela Thomas.
Dale McClellan, owner of M&B Farms, when asked about Commissioner Putnam and tonight’s event, said “Adam Putnam’s a great guy. I’ve been privileged to work with him for some time as a dairy farmer and I am all in on helping him be elected Florida’s governor.”
By glancing at the event’s extensive host committee, and hearing how many are planning to brave the cold weather tonight, Putnam, at this point of the election cycle, is receiving strong support from the Citrus County community.