Gruters, Vernon Debate Family Obligations



Is it too time-consuming to be a politician, a business owner and, well, a father? Joe Gruters, a Republican candidate for state representative for District 73, says an opponent goes too far in a recent political mailer suggesting children are too much of a time commitment for a public servant. But Steve Vernon, the other Republican in the race, says that criticism is taken out of context, and the problem is Gruters is stretched too thin with countless outside obligations. “Joe’s got all these competing priorities,” Vernon says. “He’s juggling too many balls, and he is not focused on the people.”

The mailer sent out by Vernon lists facts about himself in contrast with Gruters, who is labeled a “Sarasota Party Boss.” The mailer critiques Gruters lack of military service compared to Vernon’s time in the Marine Corps and calls Gruters a RINO (Republican In Name Only) for critiquing conservative groups like Americans For Prosperity. But Gruters takes special issue with the last line: “Will have a new business, multiple political appointments and two volunteer positions of authority with the Republican Party, and is the father of three babies that will distract him from representing the district.”

“When you bring somebody’s family into it, and especially criticizing kids and saying they are a distraction that is disqualifying, it’s just so preposterous,” Gruters says. Gruters anticipated being called an establishment candidate; he serves as chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, co-chair of Donald’s Trump’s presidential campaign in Florida and sits on the Florida State University Board of Trustees. He quibbles with the suggestion his volunteerism was a problem—“says if I’m active and engaged, it’s a negative”—but says going after his three children is too much.

Vernon says he obviously did not feel having children was disqualifying, but noted Gruters also just opened his own accounting firm in addition to all these responsibilities. The mention of obligations was “cumulative,” he says. “When you are involved in everything, that’s a problem.” Gruters, though, says such logic diminishes the work of numerous volunteers and working parents. “Forget about me; how about working moms with kids?” he says. “How about anybody with children who is working? It’s interesting, foolish and disappointing.”

The Republican primary is scheduled for August 30. The district includes parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties. The winner of the primary will face Democrat James T. Golden in the November election.

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