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Citrus Republicans Feel Social Pressures, Not Ideological Pressure

The Concurrent launched on Feb. 7 as twice weekly, 750-word columns and I am proud to say we have posted every Thursday and Sunday since then. Despite the publication consistency, the content has varied since that first column nine months ago today.

The focus has remained local, but the approach has become slightly altered. The first columns were more philosophical. The aim was to educate more than it was to inform.

As the debate over increased fees, density of commercial and residential zones in Inverness, raising the sales tax and eventually mandatory trash collection come and go, the news will be covered and people on social media and in letters to the editor will undoubtedly have opinions.

Let’s get in front of that today both by looking at one of these issues and at the concept of ideology.

Political beliefs in Citrus are perceived and practiced in rational ways, though it can get confusing if not examined through the context of history.

A common refrain I hear from people in my political circles now are grumblings that the elected officials on the County Commission are not true Republicans because of the way costs have gone up in recent years, particularly in the last year since the new Board assumed office.

I reject this characterization for two reasons.


One is a bit cheeky. In 1923 Senator William Borah said, “any man who can carry a Republican primary is a Republican.” This feels like an oversimplification, especially since two of the Commissioners won in open primaries, not Republican primaries, meaning Democrats and people of all registration status could vote. A third Commissioner won his last Republican primary with less than 40% of the vote so he was far from being the majority choice of the Party’s most involved electorate.

But have the Commissioners’ votes been enough to disqualify them from being Republicans? Not to me.

The label of conservative is now used interchangeably with the title of Republican but this is a relatively new phenomenon to American politics. Not until the mid-1990s did a sorting of the electorate take place. Sorting refers to the process through which identities become aligned such as saying you’re a conservative Republican without giving much thought that there would be any other kind.

And why would you think there would be? Today’s most conservative Democrats don’t come close to overlapping with today’s most liberal Republicans in the aggregate of their ideology.

Throughout much of the 20th century, however, liberal Republicans did not just exist but were quite common. In 1976, only 54 percent of the electorate believed the Republican Party was more conservative than the Democratic Party and almost 30 percent said there was no ideological difference at all between the two parties.

Knowing some of the Commissioners as I do, I know they will reject the idea of me implying they are liberal Republicans although I honestly don’t mean it pejoratively. To be conservative, the argument will go, means making sure you’re paying your bills and if raising taxes is the way to do that then the responsible thing to do will be to collect that additional revenue.

Raising the sales tax will bring in about $16 million dollars annually just from tourists according to Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach while roughly $6 million dollars more annually is needed to cover road resurfacing.

We do need to catch up on some roads and we do have other underfunded areas of our government, but a solution that overshoots the problem by $10 million annually from people who don’t even live here doesn’t just feel like overkill; it feels like a solution to an entirely different problem.

That problem is that some have internalized an idea that raising the sales tax would be good for Citrus County and the currency of a certain social circle in our small community is to do anything to prove your love of our area.

Supporting the sales tax raise is becoming less about the transaction of creating an appropriate amount of revenue to solve a problem (because it doesn’t) and more about the identity of being seen as pro-Citrus in the eyes of their social community for some.

Though I’m ardently against the sales tax raise in principle, I’m willing to keep an open mind as debate begins. My hope is that others who are staunch supporters of the idea will be willing to brave the disapproval of their friends to resist the group-think that has crept onto the Commission and do the same.


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