Starting tonight, voters can get an up-close look at local candidates during the first political forum to be televised to all cable television subscribers in Citrus County.
With an election two weeks away, voters will get an unprecedented chance to size up 16 candidates for federal, state and local office from the comfort of their living rooms.
The program will air in two one-hour segments on successive nights, and will be repeated three times before Election Day, Nov. 8. (See schedule, Page 2.)
The forum was sponsored by the Times and was moderated by the League of Women Voters of Citrus County. The program was taped by QPI Productions and will appear on TV49, which is carried on both local cable television systems.
Customers of Telesat can tune in on Channel 27. Subscribers to Time Warner Cable can get TV49 on Channel 14, but as of Nov. 1 the station will switch to Time Warner's Channel 1.
People who receive broadcast signals on a UHF antenna can tune in TV49 on Channel 49 of the UHF dial. The station is owned and operated by the Key Training Center.
Tonight's program will feature the six candidates running for three School Board seats and two candidates for state Senate District 4. The second installment will feature four candidates for two County Commission seats, two nominees for state House of Representatives District 43, and two candidates for U.S. House of Representatives District 5.
The Times conceived of the forum, underwrote the production costs and asked the League of Women Voters to help as moderators of the forum. Ten league volunteers helped with the program.
Civic organizations have long sponsored candidates forums, and other such events have been carried on one local cable service in past years.
However, Nancy Campbell, president of the League of Women Voters of Citrus County, said the televised forum furthered the league's goal of presenting useful information about candidates in a fair, non-partisan way.
Other forums, she said, "have a political atmosphere. It's difficult to hear in some cases. The attention can be on who has the biggest entourage, the biggest signs to raise."
Greg Hamilton, editor of the Citrus edition of the Times, agreed. "We wanted an event that educated the public on the issues and was not simply a political circus."
Steve Parker, vice president of QPI, said by televising the event, many more voters in Citrus County will have access to information they might otherwise miss.
"We have a lot of retired people who can't get to places where they hold forums," he said.
During the forum, taped on Oct. 12, each pair of candidates in each race was asked five to six issue-oriented questions by moderator Samantha Brown of the League of Women Voters. The questions were prepared by reporters of the Times and reviewed by a league committee.
Candidates had one minute to answer each question, and each was allowed to make a one-minute closing statement. Segments on each race vary slightly in length, with each running 10 to 15 minutes.
Several candidates said they liked the way the forum was organized and run, except for the time constraints.
"Some of the issues are so complex, if you had an hour I'm not sure it would be enough time," said County Commissioner Gary Bartell, who is running for re-election.
Campbell said the league might propose giving candidates more time should the forum be held again.
Some candidates had jitters on and off camera. School Board candidates Willie White, B. J. Collins and Janet Herndon each had momentary slips during the taping but quickly regained their composure.
The Times will decide after the segments air whether to continue its sponsorship, said Gary Wilson, community relations administrator for the newspaper's Nature Coast editions. But, he added, "We're excited about the concept."
Here are the dates, races and channels for the candidate forums for cable television subscribers. People with a UHF antenna can view the shows at the same times and dates on Channel 49.
Telesat Time Warner Cable
Today 9 p.m., Channel 27 9 p.m., Channel 14
Tuesday 9 p.m., Channel 27 9 p.m., Channel 14
Thursday 8 p.m., Channel 27 8 p.m., Channel 14
Friday 8 p.m., Channel 27 8 p.m., Channel 14
Oct. 31 9 p.m., Channel 27 9 p.m., Channel 14
Nov.1 9 p.m., Channel 27 9 p.m., Channel 1
Nov. 3 8 p.m., Channel 27 8 p.m., Channel 1
Nov. 4 8 p.m., Channel 27 8 p.m., Channel 1