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Podcast: Republicans, Leaders Welcome Conversation & Conflict

Happy December to you. Can you believe this is the first show of our last month? Three important dates to know: December 31st is new years eve, December 25th is Christmas, and December 17th is the Amazon cut off date to get that uncle you see twice a year a weighted blanket. One date that has already past but that was critically important to the political direction the county was the Republican Executive Committee elections that happened just last night, I’m going to talk about those a bit in the first topic.

In the second topic I’ll try to react to the Chronicle commentary section from Sunday, but since there wasn’t much in there, and I don’t mean not much information, I mean most of the normal writers did not have columns so there literally wasn’t much in there then it might be difficult this week. Twice in 48 hours this last weekend too I had people who I’ve mentioned by name in columns come up to me in person to discuss what I wrote about them, both were positive but you won’t want to miss that at the end of topic 1. Let’s get right into it starting with a story.

In my class last week, we did the ethics debates which is culmination of everything the students have learned about debating into ethical topics having to do with technology in media. Some topics are “do social media platforms have a moral obligation to make their products less addicting?” and does Apple have the right to limit file sharing of Chinese protestors?” things like that. One topic is, “were University of Virginia students right to try to ban former Vice President Mike Pence from speaking on campus?”

This last one is based off a real case study from this last spring in which the UVa campus newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, published an opinion piece from a guest contributor advocating for the university to rescind a speaking invite to the former VP stating that he would create an unsafe environment to immigrant and LGBT students.

Before you roll your eyes at this, the newspaper doubled down by writing a staff editorial agreeing with the guest contributor. That’s the representation of the student body voice, the editorial staff of the nation’s oldest collegiate newspaper, taking the position that a man once a heartbeat away from the presidency was not welcome.

I teach two sections of this media ethics class and they could not be more different as far as the students go. Take this case study for example. One section agreed with the Cavalier Daily and said Pence should not be welcomed and the other section said that free speech belongs on college campuses and if you don’t like what he’s going to say, don’t go.

The second section of this class, the free speech absolutists, repeatedly took these positions across a range of case studies. They said other people their age were fragile, but the world is an unforgiving place, and you have to know how to stand up for yourself.

Meanwhile the first section consistently argued that some censorship is beneficial to society at large, that we should be more caring about our communities, and that the world will one day work together. You don’t have to tell me, I know what side you agree with and you know which one I do too. That’s why what happened next shocked me so much.

We start doing these ethics debates and I change the rules slightly to allow for true debate. Two minutes of moderated back and forth where the competing sides are unscripted and confrontational. If you want to win the overall debate, these two minutes were the battle that would win the war.

And after this change, I asked the students how they liked it, and once again the answers between the two sections could not be more different. Except not how you would expect. The first class, the “world is an unforgiving place, toughen up” group hated the confrontation. They asked to return to a more scripted, structured debate that provided less room for conflict.

The group that thought the world could all get along in peace in harmony? They were at each other’s throats. When it came time for the open portion, I had to step in more than once to tone down the profanity that was being hurled at one another as they threw verbal haymakers at each other. When it was over, they did two things: said it was the most fun they’ve ever had and then asked for more time to debate.

What’s happening here? How could it have played out like this? The group that had talked a big game were not able to deliver when put on the spot for action but the group who had been questionable throughout the entirety of the semester stepped up when it was their time to shine and illuminated that classroom like the Florida summer sun.

That’s what happened last night in the REC elections. Now, those who are part of the Republican Executive Committee, which is the formal local Party structure of the Citrus Republican Party, know that I’ve been talking about last night without actually talking about it for quite some time. Part of the secrecy is that they are closed meetings, and part of it is that I don’t want to air Republican dirty laundry. So why am I talking about it now? Because the rinse cycle is complete. There is no dirty laundry to air. Last night was a masterclass in inter-group strengthening.

Without going into too much detail, there were competing ideas about the direction of the Party - one that recognized the need to impartiality prior to nominations and professionalism in helping nominees become elected officials and another that felt the Party was better served adhering to a stricter orthodoxy whether this is backing the same candidates, holding the same positions, or acting the same way.

This is a little bit of an oversimplification, and I’m not even going to say that the right side won because I don’t want to discount the voices of those who voted for the other candidates whose opinions are and should be respected. What carried the night, though, was a recognition that there’s a process that is bigger than us all and a perpetuation of that process is more important than a demand on ideological conformity.

As you can probably guess by having listened to me for a while, I’m not one for ideological conformity. I’m often the critic in the thought and action of others, for better or worse. And how lucky are we that we have leaders who understand this? Last month, I wrote about the Chamber of Commerce that they are and I’m quoting “infuriating, cringy and self-congratulatory.” I went on to say that I have been and will likely continue to be a political foe of chamber CEO Josh Wooten. Josh stopped me Saturday night at the Crystal River Christmas Parade, you know what he said? Great piece. I mean, obviously he disagreed with some of the assessment and we talked about that, but he understood where it was coming from even if he disagreed with it.

Commissioner Diana Finegan was the same way. She approached me at last night’s elections to talk about my scorecard of her from Thursday’s column. I joked with her that an A minus is better than what most of my students get and she asked me what I teach and we both got a laugh when I said media ethics because she said that I should have called her before writing my assessment. And she’s right. She is. I made up some nonsense that I take great lengths to label my work opinion writing so I’m not obligated to present it objectively or with her side, but the truth is that’s a pretty lame excuse on my end. Other commissioners I’ve written about have called me, in what is now a term of endearment, egg-headed and this was a time when I was being egg-headed. But both her and Josh were being gracious. Much like my first section of the class in the debates, they might have opinions I disagree with, but they can walk the walk when put on the spot.

And so can the REC. I’m incredibly proud of this organization, and it is thanks to some of the most dedicated, hardworking people - you know who you are and you have my utmost admiration and respect - but as a Party, we can sometimes look like gusto and bluster from some of our most vocal members. Inside the Party though, we rise to the occasion. We welcome a little bit of conflict, keep it professional, and come out stronger for it. We might be on the eve of 2023 as we move into December, but rest assured, 2024 - Citrus Republicans are ready for you.

Getting to topic 2 but first,

We just crossed 300 downloads of our mobile app. This may not sound like a lot but getting people to search for a platform then add it to their phone requires major involvement and 300 people have happily done so. Thank you to you if you are one of them, maybe you’re listening on the app right now. If you haven’t, please take a moment and type in Citrus County Concurrent in your phone’s app store to join the over 300 others in staying in the know on the go.

That topic ended with talking about a few personal conversations, something I try never to do as I think things that are said to me are private, but since both Josh and Commissioner Finegan were the adults in the conversation, I’m hoping they will excuse the indiscretion this once. What I try to do instead is to comment on what people put out publicly such as in the Chronicle Sunday commentary section.

Except that’s a lot harder to do when there isn’t one. Okay, okay, so there was a section but I don’t know where all the typical writers went. Publisher Trina Murphy who is usually about every other, every third or so, week - nothing. Executive Editor Jeff Bryan who is weekly - nothing. What we got was a weird front page what appeared to be a paid sponsorship column about medicare providers and an editorial that barely grasped the issue it was commenting on.

Let’s talk about the editorial. It said that Chairman Ruthie Schlabach’s proposal about reformatting the public input portion of meetings was well intentioned but a misstep that was poorly executed, that’s actually their words, that the execution was a misstep. What!?

Let’s set aside, for a second, how hard it is propose big ideas like this when Sunshine Laws make it illegal to talk about business with other commissioners until the public meeting, which is a good thing, but a difficult barrier nonetheless and instead focus on the execution. Anyone who has been watching commission meetings for a while I’m guessing had a completely different take on what happened. There was open discussion. Opinions were not only heard, they were then debated and expanded upon. The public was also as involved in the process as I’ve ever seen. Compare this to even just the last year in which many times commissioners had their minds made up prior to the meeting and discussion wasn’t about improving the process but rather a barb-trading exercise in passive aggressive behavior.

Execution a misstep? You’ve got to be kidding me. That was brilliant. I didn’t agree with the proposal, neither did the public, that’s fine. Big ideas should be welcomed, and on the dais last Tuesday they were, even if they were less so in the pages of the Chronicle.

The whole coverage of this issue, from the click-baity headlines that didn’t fully grasp the issue to this odd take on the discussion was botched. This is where commentary writers can put even editorials into better context, but unfortunately this Sunday, there were few to be found.

Thank God we know a little more about how to choose a medicare provider though, because the cold calls, fliers, and door-to-door salesman didn’t have it covered.


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