The race to fill the seat of County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who is prevented from seeking re-election because of the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling this spring on term limits, appears to be a battle between two candidates for the Republican nomination. The winner in the primary on Tuesday, Aug. 14, will face only token resistance from a write-in candidate in the general election in November. Sadly, the presence of that write-in candidate also means only Republicans can vote in the primary, which essentially serves as the final say in electing a new commissioner.
The two opponents — Charles Hines, an attorney who has garnered the approbation of much of the party establishment, and Randy McLendon, a pastor and favorite of the tea party movement in Sarasota County — do not present many distinctions between themselves when compared to Thaxton’s historical cautiousness with regard to development in the county and the need to protect environmentally sensitive lands. Based on their public statements, both candidates believe that increased development is the path to more jobs and prosperity, and that investing taxpayers’ funds in land acquisition should be tied to some way of achieving a return on that investment.
However, McLendon’s role as a tea party activist — particularly as founder of the organization Taking Our Country Back — presents a troubling subtext to the manner in which he would govern as a commissioner.
Prior to the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in 2008, most of us probably never heard the expression, “Take our country back.” That is, unless we were old enough to recall the ravings of organizations such as the John Birch Society from the 1950s. Given that the President has been only slightly more liberal than his predecessor, and no one has lost any more rights than might have been compromised during the Bush administration, it is perplexing exactly from whom our country must be “taken back.” We have concluded that such bombastic rhetoric is a thinly veiled code for an anti-Obama position motivated by racial politics.
In the 21st century, and the third century of our nation’s existence, the notion that an African-American cannot hold the highest elected office in our land without enduring such pervasive disparagement is an embarrassment to every citizen of our country and a direct refutation of any imaginings of “American exceptionalism.” To foment such disrespect not only for the man, but for the office, is an affront to the ideals for which our forefathers fought and died.
Admittedly, the fiscal prudence that existed at the core of the tea party movement has its legitimate place in the national debate about our growing dependence on borrowing to finance the operation of our government. However, the movement has attracted fellow travelers who have brought with them their ideological allegiances to white supremacy and religious zealotry, fragmenting the voice of the tea party movement with not-always-covert grumblings in support of racism and theocratic fundamentalism.
That McLendon does not disavow such unsavory aspects of the tea party movement — indeed, he even founded such a “Take back our country” organization — does not give us sufficient comfort as we consider how much inclusiveness or sagacity he would bring to the office he seeks.
For that reason, we recommend Republican primary voters cast their ballots for Charles Hines for county commissioner. While his ties to development interests might give us pause, we can hope that he will react responsibly to the voice of the people in any such deliberations. We have far less hope that an ideologue such as McLendon would be so open-minded.