UPDATE (5:12 p.m.): Lee GOP Chairman Jim Womack tells us “the Lee County Conservative Candidates’ Forum has been scheduled since June. The Herald scheduled its forum later. We are confident citizens will get a great opportunity to hear from all candidates from these forums.”
ORIGINAL STORY: The Lee County Republican Party has announced a “conservative candidates’ forum” which will happen on the same date and at virtually the same time as another long-standing, previously announced local forum to which all candidates on November’s ballot have been invited:
The GOP forum, announced on Tuesday, is set for 6 to 8:15 p.m. Oct. 16 following a half hour reception at the Lee County Courthouse. Meanwhile, the Sanford Herald has been promoting its regularly-held forum – set for the same date, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. following an hour reception at the Dennis Wicker Civic Center – for weeks now.
Given the laws of physics, it seems like it would be difficult for “conservative candidates” to attend both events, since they will happen in different places at the same time.
It’s unclear whether the conflict was created intentionally. But the Herald’s long-standing forum is well known among local political observers as one of just a couple of opportunities at which candidates from both major parties have an opportunity to appear on stage together, take questions from a third party and present competing cases to voters (the other is typically hosted by the Council for Effective Actions and Decisions; this year’s CEAD forum is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 11 following an hour reception at the Lee County Courthouse).
The GOP’s Facebook post doesn’t indicate which candidates will be attend the event (other than U.S. Rep. Mark Walker and an NRA spokesman to “headline” the event, a somewhat bizarre detail in itself), but attached are photos of virtually every Republican on the November ballot, including Lee County Commissioner Andre Knecht, commissioner candidates Kirk Smith and Arianna Del Palazzo, school board member Sandra Bowen, school board candidates Pam Sutton and Christine Hilliard, state Rep. John Sauls, Sheriff Tracy Carter, and Senate candidate Jim Burgin. The post indicates that “ticketed” winners could be eligible to win a shotgun or other door prizes, although it does not indicate what, if anything, tickets cost, or where they may be obtained.
If the GOP forum is purposely designed to conflict with the Herald’s, it would echo a move from 2012 in which three Republican candidates for the Board of Commissioners (including Smith) left a Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce forum before taking any questions. Further, GOP Chairman Jim Womack has in recent years taken an increasingly hostile stance with the Herald, referring to the publication as “fake news“ and “heavily slanted.”
We’ve reached out to the Herald to find out whether any GOP candidates have RSVP’d to their event and to the GOP to find out if the double booking was intentional and if their leadership fears candidates taking questions from an impartial moderator. We’ll update this post if and when we hear from either.