What happened to Sarasota?

Ron Filipkowski
Ron Filipkowski, editor-in-chief of the Meidas Touch Network

Once a quiet corner of moderate Republicans who supported the arts and planned parenthood, Sarasota has morphed into a politically polarized hotbed of right wing extremism.

What happened to Sarasota? Joe Gruters.

The state senator and former chairman of the Florida Republican Party was an early supporter of Donald Trump and one of the first prominent legislators to endorse the former president over Ron DeSantis for president.

Gruters used those connections to entice scores of right-wing Republicans to move to the sun-splashed city during the pandemic, said former Sarasota Republican leader Ron Filipkowski during an interview Tuesday (3/19) on WMNF WaveMakers with Janet and Tom.

Now Sarasota is  home to the likes of the disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the Trump Twitter alternative Truth Social and the book-banning Moms for Liberty. Even quiet little New College has been swept up in the rightward shift. 

Filipkowski, a former prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney who has lived in Sarasota for 30 years, has shifted his professional focus to exposing right-wing extremists across the country for the Meidas Touch Network.

Why did so many right-wing Republicans choose to move to Sarasota over other parts of Florida? “The answer to that is very simple,” said Filipkowski. “It’s Joe Gruters.” The state senator’s lifelong goal is to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he said. “Joe is a very ambitious guy,” he said. “He’s very very wired into Trump World so that’s the reason why…They’re here largely because of Joe Gruters.”

Many of these same Trump World Republicans have grown to hate Filipkowski because he has exposed them on Meidas Touch as well as X, formerly Twitter, where has nearly 900,000 followers. That, along with what Filipkowski describes as unbridled growth the past few years, has prompted Filipkowski to move. He’s going to make his home in another state for both safety and less crowded conditions.

Still, Filipkowski is hopeful that the tide is beginning to change.

School Board Tom Edwards, the only Democratic member on the board who has been targeted by Gov. Ron DeSantis for defeat in his reelection bid, agrees. Edwards, who is gay, made headlines a year ago when he walked out of a school board meeting after Chairwoman Kristen Ziegler, co-founder of Moms for Liberty, refused to control audience members from using anti gay slurs against him.

Edwards said he encounters many Republicans at events around Sarasota who tell him they are turned off by the polarization and thank him for what he does.”I’m beginning to see cracks in the Legislature,” Edwards said.  “I saw a lot of really bad bills not making it out of the Legislature and that’s what brings me  more hope. Whether or not you’re a Republican or Democrat we’re basically all moderates  and share the same values and we want to get along.”

Hear the entire conversation by clicking the link below, going to the WaveMakers archives or by searching for WMNF WaveMakers wherever you listen to podcasts.


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