National Issue Creeps into Local Race



A national controversy about a South Florida tragedy gripped the campaign dialogue for a Sarasota County Commission race this weekend, as Democrat Ruta Jouniari called out the social media messaging of Republican Christian Ziegler. The topic of discourse? A corporate boycott of The Ingraham Angle on Fox News.

A Twitter exchange started Friday as Ziegler criticized a decision by Hulu to pull advertising from pundit Laura Ingraham over perceived bullying of Marjorie Stonemason Douglas High shooting survivor David Hogg. Ziegler labeled the call for a boycott “caving to weak liberals.” Jouniari the next day called that a Good Friday smear of “children who survived the Parkland massacre.” Ziegler noted he did not identify and Parkland activists in his tweet and said he’s been working with the family of one of that shooting’s victims.

Whether any of this influences voters come November remains to be seen, but the exchange may portend campaign conversation revolving around national issues rather than the direction of county government.

That’s not what either candidate says they want, however. “I hope to be focusing on county issues,” Jouniari tells SRQ. Ziegler says: “It’s disappointing to see her use Parkland as a political tool in a local race.”

Ziegler, state committeeman for the Republican Party of Sarasota County, says his social media will surely touch on issues beyond the race, and even if he stopped saying anything his previous commentary on national and federal issues remains online to peruse. But he says he’s only interested in talking about the Parkland shooting, where 17 people died in February, in terms of local impact. “I’m a fan of discussing school security as a standalone issue,” he says. “It’s one of the rare issues all sides can come together on.” He did say that even as the online discussion evolved this weekend, he was helping Andrew Pollack, father of Parkland victim Meadow Pollack, on expanding his own online platform; Pollack has been a voice in favor of prioritizing school security ahead of debating gun control.

Jouniari says even security, though, will be an issue primarily discussed by state lawmakers and local school boards. She’d rather dialogue turn to sustainable development in Sarasota County. “I’d like to see what we can do to come to a consensus on land-use and land conservation,” she says. She herself recently ran in a state House special election (she ultimately lost the Democratic primary to now-state Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota), so she’s also got a long list of partisan political positions she recently took in public settings, but she says she wants the local race turning to issues within a commissioner’s purview.

But she will be monitoring Ziegler’s social media activity. “Once I started running for office, I quickly learned you become a political figure, and everything you say and do is watched,” she says. “You have to start watching what you say or people will take note.”  Ziegler says his focus as a candidate remains on learning all he can about county issues. “It’s all I’m focused on,” he says. He plans on continuing his Republican Party work through the campaign, but doesn’t expect it to dominate local issues in his race.

Ziegler faces fellow Republican Alexandra Coe in a Republican primary, scheduled for August 28. Jouniari remains the only Democrat in the race. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 6.

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