Thanks to the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce Plant City residents will have the opportunity to meet more than 50 candidates running in the upcoming election. The candidate forum is the chamber’s way of helping local voters be as informed as possib
Being informed when you step into the voting booth is essential to a functioning and thriving democracy. The Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce has spent months ensuring local voters have a chance to be fully prepared when they begin filling out their ballots this election cycle.
Dubbed the Plant City Candidate Forum, the event will be held on Aug. 21 and feature more than 50
candidates that will represent Plant City at the local, state and federal level if elected in November. Christine Miller, president of the chamber, said this is the first time a political event of this size and nature has ever come to town.
“This event in particular of course came out of the Governmental Affairs Committee,” Miller said. “Plant City residents, they vote, they do their research, they care about the candidates that they want to put forward to represent their issues and there really wasn’t an organized force or an organized place for them to come together to date on this side of the county. So the (GAC) took it on as one of its tasks to create that space for that to happen.”
Historically chambers are created to have a political voice for the businesses in their area. If something came along or was on the books that would impact local businesses they could unite through the chamber as a collective voice. Miller was adamant Plant City join the mix and last October the GAC was formed.
The format of the GAC is similar to those seen in chambers throughout Hillsborough and Polk County where committee members meet to gear policy toward the local business communities. But simply fighting for local businesses wasn’t enough for Miller and her team. It was crucial to them that Plant City have some type of forum for the community to be able to learn firsthand what potential candidates were promising if elected.
The response has proven the perceived gap was more than real. More than 50 candidates have already responded to attend the event and mingle with the public. There will also be a straw poll throughout the event to give a gauge of where those candidates stand in the Plant City community and Eastern Hillsborough County.
“I personally like to be very educated when I vote and I knew this didn’t exist because I looked for it for myself,” Miller said. “I would have to go to Tampa or Brandon or somewhere else to see any form of forum.”
The forum is free and open to all members of the public. When they enter the Trinkle Center they will face a large section filled with candidates’ tables where they have the opportunity to shake hands, take photos and discuss specific issues with the respective candidates.
The straw poll ballot boxes will separate the mingling masses from the stage and array of chairs where the public can sit and listen to each candidate give their stump speech. Marsha Passmore and Hannah Benton are the MC’s for the evening and will be introducing the candidates.
Miller said it is expected to be a full house Tuesday night.
“Clearly by the response that we’ve seen I believe that the community will begin to look for us to continue this event and the candidates will have us on their radar as well,” Miller said.
Though one can absolutely get informed by researching each candidate’s stances and voting history there are few events of this size available to actually meet and get to know the men and women running for office.
Putting the event together was a massive undertaking and Miller said it would have been impossible without a variety of chamber staff, Deanna Hurley, who was one of the most involved members in kickstarting the event, Martin Clay, the committee chair of GAC, and Clay Joyner, a chamber intern who is a political science major at Florida Southern College.
The hope for the chamber is many youth will also come to the event or get involved so they can see these type of forums exist.
“Hopefully this will help educate not only current potential voters, but young folk as well,” Miller said. “We’re working on getting a few young government groups to come out and participate in the event. It’s so important to engage young people in the process so they can see it exists. That way when they’re old enough to vote they know how important it is to get informed and pick the candidate that best represents their views.”