For voters who want to know more about their primary candidates before marking their ballot, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce is planning its first Politics in the Park.
The chamber's government affairs committee will host the old-fashioned political event from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. on July 12 at the Hernando County Fairgrounds.
Politics in the Park will replace the chamber's political forum, which in recent years was presented in the County Commission chambers and featured questions posed to candidates by the local newspaper editors.
The last couple of forums got some members of the chamber committee thinking that a change was needed, said committee member John Mitten.
The forums would pack the chambers, forcing some people to stand through the event. The format of introductions and then questions and answers didn't allow candidates much time to talk about their qualifications and their backgrounds, he said.
Chamber officials decided to borrow an idea from St. Augustine and Lakeland and use a format that mirrored old-fashioned political rallies that allowed the public more interaction with the candidates.
"It's an opportunity for the public to be able to come and ask questions and follow up on their own," Mitten said.
Candidates attending the event at the fairgrounds will get the chance to give their three-minute stump speech, but those who want to hear more can talk to the candidates before and after the speeches.
"I think if you miss this, you miss a great opportunity to ask the questions you really want to have answered,'' Mitten said. "It's a great format for a candidate.''
Admission will be free, and entertainment is planned. Hernando County Government Broadcasting and WWJB will broadcast the event. The Kiwanis clubs of Brooksville and Weeki Wachee will provide refreshments. Proceeds will benefit the Chamber Education Training Association.
The chamber ran into a problem with its original proposal when it tied a candidate's $250 sponsorship of a table at the event to speaking. State law prohibits charging a candidate to speak.
Organizers sought an opinion from the assistant general counsel for the Secretary of State and ultimately had to change their plan so that all candidates can speak whether they pay for a table or not.
Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams said she still thought that charging for allowing candidates to distribute their fliers was "a gray area" under the law but that she didn't plan a challenge over the issue.
Williams is slated to conduct a straw poll at the event.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.