HAINES CITY – It was literally three decades ago, Tracy Mauncey noted, when a Polk County commissioner hosted a barbeque on his property, that offered local candidates for public office an opportunity to meet and greet the voters.
“It was literally a back yard barbeque,” Mauncey said, noting that the concept was conceived by the Haines City Chamber of Commerce.
“They just came up with the idea, and said we need to have an opportunity for folks to meet the candidates in a laid back-type of atmosphere,” she said.
Decades later, politics is a lot more high tech, with candidates reaching voters by slick television commercials and postings on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter – and in some ways, a lot less fun, Mauncey added.
“There’s so much negativity in the campaigns that goes on now, and personally I question 90 percent of the stuff I hear,” Mauncey said.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is Polk County’s efforts to do it the old-fashioned, grassroots way – which is what the 30th Annual Pig Roast, Political Rally & Auction will be all about.
So far, more than 25 candidates have signed up to attend, and as Mauncey noted, “This is a chance for folks to see both candidates and clear up any particular questions they might have.”
The 30th Annual Pig Roast, Political Rally & Auction will be on Friday, Aug. 10 at a new venue, the Lake Eva Banquet Hall, from 6-9 p.m. The special VIP Reception begins at 5 p.m.
Tickets are $50 per person.
Since 2012 is a presidential election year, there’s a lot of enthusiasm building up for this event, said Mauncey, who is coordinating it for the Chamber.
“We are super-duper excited because not only is it a presidential year, but is our 30th anniversary,” she said. “This has really evolved into Polk County’s signature political event. We are really excited.”
The phones have been ringing from people who have questions about the event, said Betsy Weddington-Aycock, executive director of the Haines City/Northeast Polk County Chamber.
“It’s a little bit crazy right now,” she said. “But as of today, we have 27 candidates registered, and we are already above tickets sold than we were at this time last year — and that makes sense since this is an election year.”
There are going to be some changes this year compared to the past few years. The first is the Chamber has a new location at the Lake Eva Banquet Hall in downtown Haines City. In the past few years, the Pig Roast was held at Fantasy of Flight, the attraction in Polk City, and in the Greenlefe Golf Club in Haines City.
But the great location and space available at the banquet hall made it particularly appealing for an event like this one, Mauncey said.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better,” Mauncey said.
Second, in previous years the candidates got on a stage, and each one made a three-minute-long speech. That format is being altered this time around.
“This is our 30th, so our intent is to really take it back to our grass roots,” Aycock said. “We’ll have live country music and are asking people to show up in their best country wear, and we decided to change it up and make it more of a networking with the candidates type of event. This year, we’re going to do a parade of candidates.”
With former state Rep. Marty Bowen of Winter Haven serving as the master of ceremonies, the candidates will be invited to walk on stage, introduce themselves to the voters, and then point out where their table is.
“They can walk across and say ‘I am so-and-so, come see me at my table,’ “ Aycock said. “It’s going to be more of a down home feel, and I think the candidates should do that, and get out and network with the voters.”
“We’re trying to go back to our roots and be casual in a western way.” Mauncey said. “We decided this year in the interest of efficiency, that sometimes all the political speeches got to be too much, so we are doing a parade of candidates and have asked our candidates to make it a grass roots event and be prepared to shake hands and talk to people. I’m hopeful this new approach will be a lot more pleasing to everyone.”
A live band will be performing, while there will also be live and silent auctions, and this year, famed Florida wildlife artist Robert Butler will be attending – and possibly donating a painting to the auctions, Mauncey said.
“We’re so excited about that,” she said.
Born in Baxley, Georgia, in 1943, Butler moved to Okeechobee in 1947, and began his professional career in 1968, selling his paintings of the Florida everglades door-to-door or on the roadside.
And while they have candidates registered to attend who are running for a wide variety of offices — including Clerk of Courts, Circuit Court Judge, County Commissioner, Property Appraiser, Congress and state Senator, among them — Aycock and Mauncey are still hopeful that maybe, just maybe, they can attract two other very high profile candidates.
“We are in contact with both the Romney and Obama campaigns,” said Mauncey of the two presidential candidates, Democratic President Barack Obama and likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“Our board has been email blitzing them to attend, and they have not said no,” she added. “If we can’t get them, we can hopefully get worthy surrogates from the campaigns.”
For tickets or information, call the Chamber at 863-422-3751, log on to www.hainescity.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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