Now that we have seen how a single debate can alter, at least, the atmosphere of a campaign — whether a bracing sprits of citrus Glade or a noxious dose of sulfur dioxide probably depends on the candidate you liked already — let us turn our attention closer to home.
I mean, we all get it that the race for president is the sexy, gritty, compelling blockbuster that no politically sentient American wants to miss. But when you scrape away the glitz, who is more likely to affect, directly, your daily life, the leader of the free world, or the fellow who helps set the budget for how often the mosquito-fogger truck graces your neighborhood?
The commander-in-chief, or the guy who decides how deputies will address the suspicious activities at the house down the street?
The leader of the federal executive branch, or the county commissioner who can make trouble for the bureaucracy when your construction permit gets snagged in red tape? (I know, but don't deny a chap his dream, OK?)
In the week ahead, candidates for these duties and others are scheduled to face coveted likely voters, the press and (*blush*) honored moderators at forums sponsored by area chambers of commerce.
Beginning at 6:30 p.m. Monday at East Pasco Adventist Academy (Centennial Road), we'll examine candidates for property appraiser, tax collector, clerk of court and sheriff. (County court judge candidates will make their pitches, but won't endure the moderators.)
The forums move to the west campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College Wednesday and Thursday beginning at 5:30 each day.
Should we provide a glimpse of what they can expect to be asked? What, and eliminate the element of surprise? Yes, absolutely. Forums are not game shows. Although voters like elected officials who can think on their feet, those officials, unlike first-responders, rarely are called to make snap decisions.
Instead, the vast bulk of their work involves sifting the research of professional staffers, questioning their results, weighing their recommendations, then applying their judgment. This is especially true of county commissioners and school board members, but it applies as well to constitutional officers.
So, as much as we are tempted to juice these events with "gotcha" questions — if they're thin-skinned, best to know it before Election Day — the superior course is finding out what they do with problems they've had a chance to ponder.
Here, then, a preview of questions that are likely to demand attention when candidates, moderators and voters convene in the coming week.
County commissioner: Every member of the current board vowed to improve Pasco's economic climate by making the county bureaucracy friendlier to business. It hasn't happened. Why do you think that is the case, and what makes you think you can change it?
Sheriff: A retired officer from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement tells me the modern sheriff's office is too large and too constrained by federal and state mandates to be much influenced by who wears the big badge. Is he wrong? If so, how will the sheriff's office be radically different in, say, two years if you are elected?
Tax collector: This race may turn exclusively on whether voters, who support term limits philosophically but reject them as a practical matter, decide eight terms is enough. Is longevity in office a sufficient reason to make a change? Why or why not?
Clerk of court: Staff has shrunk dramatically as a result of the Legislature's budget cuts, without a corresponding cut in responsibilities. Describe the efficiencies you would put in place in the next two to four years, and what savings would result.
Property appraiser: Describe the nature of the property appraiser's duties, paying special attention to whether "get myself reelected" is on the list.
Oh, come on. There has to be at least one "gotcha."
See you at the game-changing debates.