Issue #98: The HD24 Special and "Don't Say Gay"
Joe Harding is going to jail
Today, March 7th, there is an Republican primary election being held in the Ocala area. The primary is for the House District 24 special election; which was called due to the arrest and resignation of State Rep Joe Harding.
The district in question is heavily Republican. While Ocala does have some democratic pockets, most of those are not in this district. The seat backed Donald Trump by 23 points in 2020.
In 2022, the massive turnout collapse of Democrats led to the seat voting for Ron DeSantis by 37 points.
That year, Harding did not face an opponent. This has long been an area where Republican primaries decide winners. In the city of Ocala itself, Republicans still regularly win.
So we are talking about a solid GOP area.
Joe Harding and ‘Don’t Say Gay’
Joe Harding burst into national attention as a lead sponsor and defender of Florida’s draconian ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law. The law, which supporters claimed was merely to “keep sexual discussions away from the youths” was actually a law that worked to remove LGBT teachers, ban any discussion of gay people existing at all, and is part of what we now see with books being pulled from shelves. Couched under the frame of “parents rights” - because you know no parents are gay, or supportive of the gays, and surely want their kids hidden from the real world.
People like Joe Harding constantly claimed the bill never banned saying gay. Harding and his ilk would constantly say, “read the bill.” Well I and many did, and the outcome has been exactly what we expected. The last several months have seen teachers fired or forced to resign, mass confusion about what rules school districts have to set up, and the outing of students who confided to a teacher because they didn’t have supportive parents.
The “keep gays out of our schools” bit is not new. In fact, it is decades old. The LGBT community has been a classic boogeyman for conservatives for DECADES. The notion of “protecting” the kids from “the gays” is longstanding. The 1978 “Briggs Infinitive” in California is a famous example (also known as Prop 6). That year, conservatives tried to get California to ban letting gay people teach in public schools. This failed, with arch-conservatives like Ronald Regan even opposing it. The failure of the initiative was a big victory for the gay rights movement.
In 1994, in Idaho, a measure that would have banned homosexuality from being positively referenced in school (oh look maybe Harding got his draft text from here) failed narrowly in Idaho - with the Mormon east giving the gay community an unexpected assist.
Of course, while these two results were good, there have been many bad outcomes. Same-sex marriage bans, repeals of protections, and constant fights over education. A good list of all measures is here.
And of course, in 2008, Florida became another of many states to ban same-sex marriage. I wrote about that campaign and results here.
Harding isn’t the first bigot to push anti-gay bills.
But Joe won’t be leading this issue anymore. He has now been indicted for money laundering and wire fraud. What happened? Well, he is being indicted for using fraud to obtain COVID disaster funds. In the indictment, the Justice Department shows that Harding claimed to have profitable businesses before COVID, when it turns out they were dormant companies. He acquired over $150,000 in assistance. I got to tell you, read the indictment, because when I finished it I could only think one thing.
While Harding has maintained his innocence, he finally opted to resign from the House. He could face up to 20 years in jail. When the news of the indictment and resignation broke, I had a very somber reaction……….
Harding constantly said that critics of “don’t say gay” should “READ THE BILL.” Well, Joe, maybe you should have read law on wire fraud.
The Special Election Candidates
The special primary has 5 Republican candidates running. A write-in also qualified to close the primary. No Democrat has filed. Honestly cannot blame them - as this is not a DEM friendly area. These are the candidates, with the HARD money they raised, so it doesn’t account for political committees.
Justin Albright - A former Chair of the Marion County Soil and Water board. Brother to current Marion Tax Collector and former Rep George Albright. Raised $10,000 and loaned another $20,000.
Charlie Stone - The former Representative for HD22 until 2020. Raised $140,000 and loaned another $50,000.
Ryan Chamberlin - A conservative author who got 5% in the 2020 primary for CD3. Raised $70,000 and loaned another $75,000.
Jose Juarez - A businessman from Ocala who is the son of Cuban exiles. Raised $54,000 and loaned another $20,000.
Stephen Pyles - A physician who is tight in conservative circles. Raised $15,000 and loaned another $60,000.
An even more detailed look at candidates can be found here.
The campaign has been a mad dash over the last two months. Despite calls from candidates like Chamberlin to run a positive race, it has already been very nasty. Stone, the former Representative, has taken a barrage of hits in mail boxes from third party groups.
The mailers and other attacks are filled with bigoted anti-LGBT attacks. Claims that there will be “Drag Queen Story Hour in our elementary school classrooms” if Stone wins. The primary sees the candidates talk about jobs, economy, but then the paid advertising is typical gutter conservative politics.
Chamberlin has also delved into the gutter, defending Harding and claiming his arrest was a political ploy.
There is no doubt that his commitment to principle and his being the co-sponsor of the ‘Parental Rights in Education’ legislation made him a target for the left and the Biden Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, Justin Albright’s brother, the Marion Tax collector, has made it clear he does not support his sibling’s state house bid.
My brother Clay and I are totally shocked that he has decided to run in this race. We read about it just like everybody else. We in no way, shape or form condone or endorse his candidacy. Marion County deserves better!
Articles indicate George and Justin had a falling out after their father died. So there is some internal family dispute. But you know what? Holy shit what a dick move by George. To be so nasty and cold in your attack. I’d never do that to any family member. Then again, me and my sister actually love each other.
Albright might have been elected to the Marion Soil and Water Board, but his 2022 and 2018 races were unopposed (not exactly a high profile office). Stone, meanwhile, did represent a good chunk of the district while serving in the old HD22, but did lose plenty of territory.
Money is being spent from political committees tied to candidates as well as third-party organizations.
The latest poll for the race has Stone leading with 22%, Chamberlin and Juarez at 18%, and Albright at 16%. Pyles polls in single-digits. Realistically this race could go to any of the initial four, as 20% are undecided. The poll noted that most of Stone’s voters plan to vote on election day. So keep that in mind as the early/mail votes come in. So far 5,700 votes have been cast.
I will be watching the returns tomorrow.
The GOP’s Campaign of Hate
Everything happening in Florida and the nation right now is incredibly distressing but in no ways surprising. This playbook is as old as politics. Find a group you can demonize, claim you are protecting “kids” or “western civilization” or whatever, and then go on the attack. I’m 37, and grew up as an LGBT teenager watching the Republicans and George Bush just make my life a living hell by treating me like a monster. I’ve seen this playbook before.
Don’t let it be forgotten that the transgender issues really went into full gear in 2021, right after Trump lost the Presidential elections. The whole “bathroom bill” issue had risen before, and tanked the North Carolina GOP governor, but now the battle has expanded radically. First it was about kids sports, now its about not letting parents and teenagers make their own medically-advised opinion. Its also “never talk about LGBT as a thing at all!” The Florida legislature has now proposed a bill to take transgender minors away from their parents. This bill is being pushed by State Rep Randy Fine, not a doctor, but a former casino executive. Fine made his money by getting mommy or daddy to gamble the kid’s college fund on blackjack, but now suddenly, after YEARS of transgender services being available. it is suddenly an issue. It also coincides with Fine announcing a state senate run.
Imagine an early 2000s law that said my parents would be arrested for telling me it was okay to be LGBT. “Oh they are letting him make mistakes, he cant reverse any experiences he might have.” What a load of crap. Let me be clear to anyone reading who isn’t an operative and truly is conflicted about this. First, I beg of you to talk to actual transgender people and hear their experiences. I also encourage you to look at the horrible LGBT youth suicide rate. Let me tell you, my dark moments in 2004 were not caused by “the gay agenda” - they were caused by George Bush using me as a punching bag in elections.
Don’t be fooled about claims that “the rate of LGBT youth is rising, they are being indoctrinated.” The real answer is simple - the society we are in now (well until a few years ago) is the most open to supporting LGBT people. Coming out was a bigger risk decades ago. This societal pressure can absolutely influence how people self-identify. For example, here is the rate of left-handedness in American by birth year.
Perhaps not well know to all, but in the past, left-handedness was discouraged and punished. People from earlier generations can testify to force measures to make them use their right hand. When those restrictions finally ended, the self-ID rate shot to 12% and stayed. Any jump in the LGBT rate is a reflection of openness to be honest. It will plateau.
Regardless, lets be clear. These Republicans do not care about kids. They don’t expand Medicaid, they don’t fund child services well. They pull money away from schools. They don’t care about kids. They care about winning. Most of them don’t even believe in the issue. They are just cynical politicians. If you want any more proof of this, see an Oklahoma legislature squirm trying to justify how much he cares about kids while backing unrestricted gun access.
If you are reading this and truly want to understand the transgender community more. Please check out Contrapoints on Youtube. I find her to be a excellent bridge to understanding these issue. She also dresses up and does different roles and its very engaging!
Here she talks about the debate around gender vs sex and clears up misconceptions.
And if you have seen the wizard author, JK Rowling, running around screaming about the transgenders being a threat, then I recommend this follow up as well.
These are long videos. They are still awesome. You should watch them. Come on, don’t tell me you have anything better to do.
We are entering very dangerous times. The LGBT attacks have translated into violence already, with trans and LGBT people being murdered in shootings just recently. These words radicalize people, and anyone engaging in this crap is guilty of incitement. At CPAC a few days ago, Michael Knowles gave a horrid speech where he called for “transgenderism to be eradicated.” Now that is pretty damn scary language, and yes it reminds me of a certain country in 1930s Europe. Knowles actually got angry when headlines reported that he called for “transgender people to be eradicated” and demanded retractions. Well, here is my take.
If you have any issue with my analogy, I do not want to hear it. This dehumanizing language is damaging whether used against a religious group, ethnic group, gender, or sexuality. It is VERY clear that the anti-LGBT movement has taken cues from the hateful attacks of the government’s of old. This is not a drill, this is not a game. People want to live their lives and it is only these hateful fear mongers that get in the way.
Whoever wins tomorrow HD24 primary will no doubt be a clone of Joe Harding. They will vote lockstep with GOP leadership and parrot whatever hateful talking points they are given.
But just remember. When you hear about this issue in the press, its not because “the gays” are trying to indoctrinator anyone. Its because cynical GOP politicians decided to weaponize hate, fear, and misunderstanding to win elections.