From the Left- The Daily Commercial: A voice from the unheard

Mary Ellen Griffith Columnist

Look, I am no political strategist, but I know what I see: Somewhere along the line the left’s political platforms got lost in the mire of admittedly important but secondary concerns. This, while the right loudly yells their conspiracy theories and ad hominem attacks from the social media rooftops. We have fallen off the scale of checks and balances, and they currently weigh entirely in favor of the far right. And if we do not regroup, get focused in point: Many of you may remember when, in 2019, the Board of County Commissioners voted in favor of having the Confederate statue of Kirby Smith placed in the old Lake County courthouse — a courthouse known for its shamelessly documented Jim Crow injustices. The commission did this despite a majority of bipartisan objections from those whom they were elected to serve.

And so the left went to work. We set aside our political differences in and outside of the party. Our purpose was unmistakable: racism will not be tolerated here. Move the statue to a Civil War reenactment site where people can learn from it, not venerate it. That platform, in one form or another, was shared on social media. News organizations were enlisted and a Florida congresswoman spoke at a rally of an estimated 400 residents. The grounds on which to file a lawsuit was found. The fight was tireless. It took a year, but the people won. All but one commissioner rescinded their vote. And if we do not regroup, get focused and loud, we will continue to lose elections.

And that’s a problem. A large percentage of voters remain unrepresented in Lake County. And the cause? Our failure to mobilize, groom and run electable candidates in our own backyard.

Except for the school board, which is non-partisan, every constitutional officer in Lake County is a Republican. Every. Single. One.

Not only does that leave an estimated 26% of registered Democrats unrepresented, but there are 23% of Lake voters registered as non-party affiliated. I am one of them, and I lean left. So, I am quite sure there’s a few more of us out there feeling voiceless. Nevertheless, that’s a total of 49% of voters untapped, voting for local Republican candidates while we’re busy fighting over platforms like who gets to use which bathroom.

That was Commissioner Josh Blake. He likened the rejection of Smith’s statue, a man who never stepped foot in Lake County, to our history being “swept under the rug.” He stated it was akin to “bulldozing the Roman Colosseum,” an absurd analogy at best. Additionally, he made these statements knowing full well the objective was to relocate Smith’s statue to the historically suitable Olustee Civil War reenactment site.

Prior to the vote, Blake was invited to give a commencement speech to a group of Lake County Library online high school students. In far-right fashion, Blake avoided the usual motivating words of a leader encouraging the future to seek out service and excellence. Instead, he grandstanded on the issue. He warned of a “cultural and moral revolution” brought on by “leftist forces” seeking to “destroy history.” He inferred that anyone who does not agree is historically inept, not to mention immoral.

Regardless of the clear message sent by his constituents, he ignored the will of the people to avoid the statue. He never rescinded his vote. In fact, he defended it.

And then, in 2020, we voted Blake back into office.

I am unconvinced that there is not a moderate or liberal in this entire county who could have won against Blake. But, while we were arguing whether first-graders should keep their masks on at school all day, we lost the opportunity to send a message: deliberate divisiveness will not be tolerated here; serve all the people or we’ll vote you out. We failed to facilitate the beginnings of true transformation. We dropped the ball.

Fast forward to 2022. The only registered candidate to run against Leslie Campione, thus far, is yet another Republican. And Republican Sean Parks? He is running unopposed.

If we do not reconsider our strategies; if we are not willing to mobilize like we did in 2019; if we are not willing to seek out electable leaders and loudly dispel the ridiculous conspiracies spread about who we are, we cannot ensure a chance for change in future elections. We will continue to remain voiceless in our county’s political decisions.

After all, nothing changes if nothing changes.


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