Few “winners”? Why don’t good candidates show up in a cesspool?
“This year’s election has few ‘winners’ for most every office.”
So began an email I received the other morning. That’s what I had thought the night before – and in many other elections I’ve covered in recent years.
Yes, there are some good candidates, but few excellent ones.
Then again, what can you expect in a toxic political environment where some local supporters mimic the ridiculous vitriol spewed by their state or national leaders or the hateful demagogues who support them?
What can you expect when organized groups – including bullies – show up at government meetings and berate officials? Some of these people make local government perennial horseflies such as Brian Heady and Damien Gilliams look like milquetoasts.
What can you expect when naysayers – some of whom don’t care about the truth – walk into meetings and call their elected officials liars, lawbreakers, etc., and then dish out such vitriol, or worse , on social networks?
“Bullying leads to hate, which leads to violence”:The hatred has not disappeared; it’s time for Indian River County to tackle it head-on
From 2016: A man whose ancestors targeted by the KKK becomes a Republican
Unacceptable Kavanaugh treatment
Most of us hate the kind of abusive treatment national figures such as Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson have received from supporters.
But we should NEVER treat our neighbors in such a way that they have to call law enforcement, worried about their property or themselves.
It’s one thing to interview candidates or officials; it’s another to get ugly, personal or worse.
Unfortunately, hate is nothing new here. In 2019, the Indian River County Sheriff‘s Office investigated cyberbullying allegations against Indian River County School Board member Tiffany Justice. An anonymous Twitter account has been linked to a school district employee who made false “allegations of sexual misconduct that were seen by her daughter,” TCPalm reported.
At the time, I wrote about some of the other ugly incidents in our community:
Like the 1960s, when Sam Block, the first local Jewish boy to receive a Bar Mitzvah at age 13, was hanged on the school’s only playground in Vero Beach and beaten so badly that he was hospitalized.
Six decades later, anti-Semitism continues to plague Indian River County. In June, a local synagogue tightened security after various anti-Semitic flyers were thrown into the county’s aisles in plastic bags weighed down with rocks. It was the seventh time in the county in two years that such propaganda had been broadcast.
Jews were not the only targets. In 1962, three-term Catholic state representative LB “Buck” Vocelle showed up in Congress to find a burning cross in his Vero Beach yard, courtesy of the Ku Klux Klan.
In 2008, the religious views of school board candidate Claudia Jiménez came under attack from supporters of her opponent, Charlie Wilson. Jiménez, director of religious education for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, won the race and served eight years.
In 2013, controversy erupted when a Vero Beach mayor objected to a proclamation declaring Humanist Appreciation Week because it was a group that did not recognize Jesus Christ. Craig Fletcher later apologized.
After:Is GOP-dominated Indian River County ready for its first openly gay nominee?
After:Who are the professional women, the mothers who compete in an exceptionally clean race?
After:More than 50 years later, residents remember the closure of Gifford High, its impact
Had Indian River become “tolerant”?
In 2016, fliers from virtually anonymous political committees claimed that part of GOP state House candidate and Catholic Erin Grall’s “secret past” worked for leftist political supporter and investor George Soros. Grall’s opponent made similar specious claims in a TV ad.
In February 2018, I wondered how Indian River County, with a majority of Republican voters, would handle its first openly gay candidate. Nicole Menz, 50, became the county’s first female judge with 56 percent of the vote.
I asked a similar question when a second openly gay candidate ran for the state House of Representatives that year. Nicole Haagenson, then 37 and an Air Force veteran, won 37% of the vote in a race against Grall, the incumbent.
Both races were conducted with respect and decorum.
But some of the things that would have happened this election season go beyond surprise.
This is one of the few times Indian River County has seen a well-funded black political candidate. LaDonna Corbin is running for school board against an incumbent backed by an organized group.
Corbin is running in a county whose school district has still failed to meet terms agreed to in a 1967 desegregation order. This is a county where, as recently as the early 1960s, black people were to be at outside of Vero Beach at sunset and where they were not served in some businesses.
Even prominent members of the Los Angeles Dodgers, such as now-Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, reported trouble when they practiced here in later years.
“People weren’t praising me in Vero when I got there.” Baker told USATODAY columnist Bob Nightengale in 2016. “I was walking around and hearing more people calling me (a racial epithet), more than in Mississippi, Alabama, anywhere. I finally became the first brother to stay on Vero beach.
“Now I’m coming back here after all these years and, man, things have changed. It’s so nice. People are friendly. Nothing like before.”
Other media outlets suggested Corbin was harassed, possibly because of the color of her skin, at a Friday event downtown. She was also ridiculed for some of her social media posts, including one about her mental health.
It was one thing to question his judgment on a video, sophomore at best, that includes profanity and talk about his personality. She later said it was a “sketch” made for fun. It was quite another to question her ability to serve because of a post that suggested she suffered from mental illness. Someone even posted signs of his image, along with the text “Crazy Corbin Says” and a QR link to the posts on county streets, sheriff officials reported.
After:TCPalm Editorial Board Recommendation: Indian River County School Board
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Shouldn’t we be better than that?
What kind of candidates can we expect in the future if we continue to allow a small segment of our population to mercilessly harass candidates for public office?
I can’t stop thinking about the long history of strong men and women in our county who would never have tolerated hate, fun business and dirty election tricks.
They won elections by proving to voters, based on their past service to the community, why they were the best candidates and what they would do if elected, and why.
But that’s when critical thinking took over from following the leader and trying to win at all costs.
What happened to our community?
This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Contact him by email at [email protected], phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman