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Central Florida Voter Voices: A Trip to the Presidents Hall of Fame

Clermont is home to the Presidents Hall of Fame where life-size wax sculptures of presidents live. Photo: Renata Sago.
Clermont is home to the Presidents Hall of Fame where life-size wax sculptures of presidents live. Photo: Renata Sago.

This week, 90.7 News is talking with central Florida voters before the state’s March 15th presidential primary. Central Florida is the swing region of this swing state. 90.7’s Renata Sago touched down in Clermont, home of the Presidents Hall of Fame, to hear what issues are important to people there.

A statue of Abraham Lincoln towers over a parking lot off U.S. Route 27, and just past some parked cars a mock Mount Rushmore overlooks a row of houses atop hills in the distance.

The Presidents Hall of Fame is a Clermont landmark. On a typical day, Bret Gordon welcomes everyone from retired couples to young mothers and their kids.

“Clermont is kind of like this weird melting pot of people," he says. "You’ve got New Yorkers. You’ve got people from the Midwest, from California—all over. We all threw a dart at Florida and missed," he laughs.

That makes for a mix of views from voters like Tom and Rita Kraniak, originally from Michigan. For a president to make it into the Hall of Fame, he or she will need certain traits:

“A person with decent morals," says Tom Kraniak. "Honesty, which is hard to find in any politician," adds Rita Kraniak.

Peace and the environment are just important to them as they are for Sue and Rick Thurston from Maine.

“We have it fairly conservative but I think it’s funny that many of our friends don’t believe in global warming and it’s like, it’s science. It’s obvious," says Rick Thurston. "We don’t have any snow in Maine. What are we doing here? We may as well go back to Maine!" laughs his wife Sue. "It’s funny that things are staring you right in your face and people don’t see it. It’s scary," he continues.

Now, Clermont is known for its gun auctions. When asked about gun control, Rick Thurston responded, “I think we have a right to have guns. I don’t think they should just outright take gun rights away from people. I think a private individual selling a gun is a different thing.”

But for libertarian Lou Marin, the federal government should not have that sort of say. Facing the Abraham Lincoln statue in the parking lot, Marin explains why individual freedom is most important to him.

“All the things that the federal government gets themselves involved with creates friction between people—friction between religions; friction between races; friction between everything."

Inside the museum, life-size wax sculptures of famous presidents and their first ladies stand next to a miniature White House. Virginia Kubly and her husband admire some old China used at a White House dinner. The two retirees think about jobs and health care, but they say they do not complain too much since they got to retire before the age of 60.

“It was good for us because he worked for Goodyear, so our pension is OK, but it’s not as good as it could be for other people. We're just lucky.”

But they do think about the country’s leadership. If Bernie Sanders doesn’t get the Democratic presidential nomination, then they say they will vote for Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

“To straighten these Republicans out," says Douglas Kubly.

To hear from more people, I venture out of the Presidents Hall of Fame into a nearby shopping plaza. Before heading into Publix for groceries, Anthony Springston explained why he thinks foreign policy is a key issue:

“Not really as much about the ISIS stuff. It’s just more about having sound, practical foreign policy without a lot of excitement that basically makes us look ridiculous in the world.”

For Jamie Hunt, education matters.

“So does the immigration issue,” she adds.

Natalie Dennis agreed, but had more concerns about health care.

“People are dying real easily and people are sick and could be saved from the littlest thing, but because of the price of health care, they’re not willing to go to the doctors.”

Ask Clermont voters which candidate should make it into the Presidents Hall of Fame next, and you’ll get a different response. The issues that are important to those voters are as diverse as they are.