The East Manatee Republican Club heard Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube and state representative candidates for District 73, Joe Gruters and Steve Vernon, discuss violence and education at the Thursday meeting at Peridia Golf and Country Club.
An estimated 70 people talked among themselves and listened to speakers over plates of chicken salad croissant sandwiches and sweating glasses of iced tea on tables with American flag centerpieces.
Steube spoke for about 15 minutes on what the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is doing to protect citizens and its own.
“When the Ferguson (Mo.) shooting took place, I went to each one of our squads, all the certified deputies, and reiterated to them again about officer training, their safety and their survival,” he said.
Officers are encouraged to train with their firearms every month, he said, although it’s only required by state law to train twice a year.
The Manatee County jail has an active shooter training center, he said, where deputies can use nonlethal, paintball-like ammunition called Simunition to practice good-guy, bad-guy situations.
“It’s all about using de-escalation techniques to bring the situation under control,” he said.
In a recent poll in his department, Steube said, 98 percent of deputies chose to wear bulletproof vests every day they worked, a number that drew “wows” from attendees.
Instead of a debate between candidates, which club Vice President Clint Miller said have grown tiresome with negativity, the prospective state representatives each spoke about their platforms.
“I come from a very nonpolitical family,” Gruters said.
The 39-year-old former Shinn & Co. CPA talked about getting “hooked” on politics in high school after listening to former Vice President Dan Quayle speak in Sarasota in 1992.
Gruters said he worked on campaigns for former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key. Now, he’s co-Chairman of Donald Trump’s Florida presidential campaign.
“I’ve spent more than half my life to elect good conservatives to office,” he said.
He said he supports no federal involvement with education and wants to end Common Core national standards for education.
“We have to do a better job,” he said.
Vernon said he became involved in politics when President Barack Obama was elected “for good reason,” he said, which garnered laughter from attendees.
The retired IBM contracts negotiator saw a rally for the Tea Party and said he was among like-minded people who wanted a limited constitutional government and individual responsibility.
“I believe that we the people have been neglected,” Vernon said.
Lobbyists and special interest groups, he said, would have no effect on him. He said he is upset about Black Lives Matter movement, saying it seems: “Michael Brown and all the rest ... disobeyed the law, didn’t follow the orders of the officers and didn’t treat them with respect.”
“All lives matter,” he said. “Especially blue lives matter.”