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More Than 17 Local Political Candidates Attend Polk Politics Rally 

More Than 17 Local Political Candidates Attend Polk Politics Rally

By James Coulter

Born and raised in Polk County, and having taught within its school system for years, Tara Wheat knows the needs of local children. She hopes to service their needs, along with the needs of adults, when she assumes the position of Polk County Judge (Group 8) if elected.

She had taught at Bartow High School and George Jenkins High School for three years. At the latter school, she even taught legal studies, teaching both business and civil law. She later worked at the public defender’s office where she represented juveniles charged with delinquency offenses in court. As a firm believer in constitutional rights, she believes everyone has a right to a proper defense, and she hopes to represent people thusly as a judge.

“Some people think you are just helping criminals try to get out of their punishment…but often…we are counseling people and telling them what the law is and teaching them [about it], and we are helping them basically with the best possible resolution that they can, and if their rights are violated, then it is our job to make sure that it is rectified,” she said.

Tara Wheat was one of the many judicial candidates for county judge, as well as many other political candidates running for other positions, who participated in this year’s Polk Politics Candidate Rally, hosted at the Bartow Civic Center.

Hosted by the Greater Bartow Chamber of Commerce, the rally was attended by 17 political candidates running for local positions, from school board members to county judges and even a congressional seat. Each candidate set up booths inside the civic center, where they could distribute pamphlets and other information about their political platform. They also had five minutes of stage time to share their platform with an audience.

Aside from being able to meet the candidates and learn more about local politics, attendees were also able to enjoy free hot dogs, popcorn, and water. They could also register to vote in the upcoming election and vote in a straw poll to determine which of the participating candidates were the most popular during the event.

The political rally had been hosted every other year by the local chamber, usually to coincide with either a presidential or midterm election. Last year’s event had been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event experienced a much lighter turnout of 150 attendees, slightly shy of their average attendance of 200 to 250 attendees.

Nevertheless, Virginia Condello, Interim Executive Director of the Greater Bartow Chamber of Commerce, was still impressed by the turnout, especially by the participating candidates. She had spoken with someone who had attended a similar rally several days ago, and it was only attended by two candidates. So seeing 17 candidates attend this rally was great, she said.

“This event [succeeds because] the community would like to know their candidates, this gives them an opportunity to meet and greet them,” she said. “A lot of times, they cannot do that, so that is why this is often a success.”

Rob Kincart, a member of ACT Environmental, and moderator for the event, was slightly disappointed with the turnout, as previous years often drew in larger crowds. He attributed the low attendance to this year being a midterm election, and thus not receiving as much attention from local constituents.

“Since it was a midterm election, they are not as concerned, which upsets me, [as this] is time to step up, meet the candidates, and vote for who you want to so you cannot complain that you are not getting the candidates making the decisions that you want,” he said.

Nevertheless, he was satisfied with the participation of the local candidates. Every political position in a democracy is important, which is why both voters and candidates need to be engaged with one another and become more informed about each other, he said.

“I wish people would take more interest in the candidates,” he said. “I am proud of the folks who are running. It is a tough job, but they are taking control of the situation.”

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