Exploring Power Centers of Citrus County Politics



“I’ve got the power,” a familiar high-pitched hook repeats in the 1990s Snap! song by the same name. But who or what in Citrus County would be singing along with the lyrics in earnest? The power center of the county can be difficult to define.


To best track down the roots of power, a distinction should first be made between different forms of influence. There is influence as a noun, which is the power one has to have an effect, and influence the verb. The verb is the act of affecting the change rather than simply having the capacity to do so.


This difference is subtle but important. It means that something that is influential as an adjective may have the power to enact change but doesn’t use it until it becomes an adverb when that power is leveraged.


Two words that begin with the same letter help illustrate the difference further. The noun version of influence can be described as prominence, well-known and capable of change, and the verb version of influence is persuasion. Persuasion can be independent of prominence, one doesn’t have to be well-known to be convincing, just as prominence can be popular without having much ability to enact change.


The first potential power center to consider is the Chronicle. Is the newspaper that operates without much competition in the local news market influential? Absolutely. But what kind of influence does the Chronicle hold - prominence or persuasion power?

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The general election day in 2020 was one year ago yesterday. However in the primary election where most of Citrus County’s races are decided, six of the eight endorsements that the Chronicle made in the 2020 primary election ended up winning that night. That suggests some influential power as a verb rather than a noun.


Each of these six, though, had some notable advantage over their opponent. This was usually either most experience in the industry (Mo Baird), a non-incumbent for a seat that significantly outraised their opponents (Holly Davis, Ruthie Schlabach and Cregg Dalton) or the incumbent who had a record to run on (Sam Himmel and Ginger Bryant).


The only two candidates who were endorsed who did not win were Judge George Angeliadis and sheriff candidate Mel Eakley. Judge Angeliadis did fit all three criteria above while Mel Eakley fit none of the descriptions.


These two outliers suggest the paper’s endorsements didn’t have much effect on what was going to happen anyway. This gets more evident when the sheriff election is compared to the one four years prior. The Chronicle had endorsed Chuck Kanhel rather than Mike Prendergast in the 2016 primary election. Neither election was competitive or decided within 20 percentage points.


One thing that may have propelled Prendergast into office despite the Chronicle endorsing his opponents was his ability to fundraise. He was the financial frontrunner in both efforts. Does this mean the Citrus business community has the power?


Judge Angeliadis, school board challenger Danielle Damato Doty and, in the general election, Theressa Foster West all outspent their opponents by an average of about $27,000 and came up short. Fundraising does help, but it’s not the sole deciding factor of elections.


If the power doesn’t lie with the local media or the business community, then maybe it does with traditional power structures like political parties. Citrus County Republicans outnumber Democrats by over a 2:1 ratio and comprise well over 50% of the total registered voter population.


However, an argument could be made that the Democrats have more power to swing an election if they vote for a more moderate Republican in an open primary.


This was untrue in the 2020 primary election. 11,004 Democrats voted in that election and only one of the open primaries was decided by a margin closer than that. This was the race between Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith and Holly Davis, which had a 10,974 vote margin - 30 votes shy of clearing the total.


This means hypothetically even if all the Democrats voted for the same candidate (an unrealistic improbability) then it still would not have changed the result of the elections, except for maybe one.


If it’s not political parties, the business community or the media, then, who does have the power?


Influence lies not with any entity but in the power of ideas. These ideas can shape the county and they can come from anywhere. Never underestimate the power of your ideas to influence our community for the better.


A 750 word column about Citrus County published every Thursday and Sunday