Dent drops out of candidates’ forum over dispute with sponsor

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent speaks to the audience during a campaign debate with Jon Thaxton on July 9 at Selby Library. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent skipped a supervisor candidates’ forum held July 30 and broadcast by Sarasota Talk Radio WSRQ because, according to organizers, she disagreed with the inclusion of one of the event sponsors, Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government.

According to emails provided to The Sarasota News Leader by WSRQ Owner/General Manager Susan Nilon, the station first confirmed the date for the debate with Dent on July 19. The event was to be sponsored by WSRQ, Sarasota Patriots (a tea party group Dent addressed in June), the Glenn Beck-affiliated Venice 912 group and Citizens for Responsible Government, a self-described “grass-roots, non-partisan community discussion group.” Two hours after being informed of those details, Dent emailed WSRQ reporter/producer Norm Vogele, asking who would moderate the debate. The answer: Nilon herself.

Vogele says Dent then called him to say she wouldn’t participate in any debate affiliated with Citizens for Responsible Government, because the group has published “lie after lie” about her on its website. Vogele reached out to Citizens for Responsible Government President Cathy Antunes to give her the news; Antunes responded by officially withdrawing her group’s sponsorship in an email to Dent.

Vogele wrote to Dent:

I communicated your reservations to the Citizens for Responsible Government, who informed me that they will remove themselves from the coordination and sponsorship of the debate to encourage your participation.

WSRQ will remain the primary sponsor (and Susan Nilon the debate moderator) and the venue, time and date will be the same.

Without your participation, as you no doubt realize, [County Commissioner and supervisor candidate Jon] Thaxton will be entitled to utilize the entire period scheduled for the event to promote his campaign and message, and we want to make sure you have the chance to represent yourself and respond to his campaign.

Cathy Antunes has suggested she will be contacting you by email later today to address any concerns you wish to share with her regarding her organization’s publications, and to confirm its departure from sponsorship and coordination of the July 30th debate.

Please let me know if this will be sufficient to regain your participation in the SOE Candidate Forum.

The next morning, Dent responded: “We have had so many debates I think I will pass on this one. Thank you for the  opportunity.” She did not respond to a News Leader request for comment.

Jon Thaxton

Dent’s absence was a missed opportunity for county residents. WSRQ planned to air the debate in full, a rare chance for the public to hear issues discussed at length by local candidates for free. The station still aired the event, featuring only Thaxton, and while a full debate would have been better, it’s still worth a listen.

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