Andie and I went this evening to a meeting of the newly-chartered First Coast Republican Club, meeting every 4th Monday at Casa Marina in Jacksonville Beach, and tonight’s gathering featured pretty much an all-star lineup of elected officials and candidates.
The danger of this is that I’m sure I’ll miss somebody, but let me see if I can hit the highlights.
17th district Representative Lake Ray was the keynote speaker. Representative Ray spoke at Tiger Bay last Friday along with Mike Weinstein, but tonight’s presentation was more partisan. Given the audience, that’s not unexpected. At Tiger Bay, he talked a lot about the way things work in the State House of Representatives. It was a very enlightening talk, in my opinion, but I’ve always enjoyed that kind of “inside baseball” stuff. Tonight’s talk was about accountability … on the part of the legislature, individuals, and particularly schools. With 54 percent of the state budget allocated to education … no that’s not a typo … 54 percent, Ray says there is not enough accountability on the part of students, parents, teachers, or administrators. And that’s across the spectrum from grade school through post-secondary. He talked about the reported cuts in education funding being spin … that the legislature actually allocated MORE money per student than in past years, but that the exodus of people from the state meant fewer students in school. The funding formula is calculated on a per-student basis, so while the bottom line might be that there is less money overall being spent, there is actually more being spent per student. But that’s not the way it’s portrayed.
Three of the four candidates seeking Jim King’s 8th district senate seat came to the meeting. Art Graham. Dan Quiggle, and Aaron Bean all spoke to the club. I won’t try to summarize each candidates’ position, but it was the first time in the campaign that I’ve seen three of the four at the same venue. I’m hoping for many more opportunities to see them all.
13th District City Council Candidate Richard Pait was next on the list. Pait is a band director/teacher, but at which school he didn’t say, and I can’t find it on his Facebook page, either. Accountability was his major theme in his short presentation as well.
Finally, we heard from Fred Lee, currently a Neptune Beach Councilman running for school board. Again, it was accountability on the part of the school administration that was the gist of his speech.
Now, I know what you may be thinking. “Tom,” I hear you cry, “you’re a journalist. How can you attend a Republican Club meeting?” To which I would answer right now, I’m a writer. Even so, my political affiliation has no bearing on my ability to report fairly. It’s pretty well known that Tim Russert worked for Democrats before taking the reigns of Meet the Press. Russert was an aide for Senator Moynahan of New York. I don’t think anybody questioned his ability to be fair because of his politics. It can be checked at the door, when need be. But for now, it doesn’t need be. In the WJCT newsroom, we all pretty much knew everybody else’s leanings, but nobody let it get in the way of reporting a story fairly. Journalists are people, and we’re all allowed to have our affiliations like anyone else. Would I have attended such a meeting when I was actively involved in daily news gathering? Well, no. But right now, that’s not an issue, and it’s a great way for me to stay involved.
But I digress.
The meeting was interrupted several times by a wild thunderstorm that blew up. Power fluctuations caused the Casa Marina fire alarm to go off several times. But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the people attending. If the momentum continues, it could be a very successful endeavor.