State GOP “impotent,” former chairman saysby Dara Kam | July 24th, 2009
Infighting within the state GOP has weakened the party so badly that it is verging on irrelevant, a former party chairman says — despite its overwhelming dominance in the legislature and its decade-long lock on the governor’s office.
Other Republican leaders charge that current party Chairman Jim Greer and, by default, Gov. Charlie Crist are out of sync with what grass-roots Republicans want.
“It would be hard to imagine us being any more impotent than we appear to be right at this point,” said former state Republican Chairman Tom Slade, who headed the party from 1993 to 1999. That was a period when the GOP took over the state House and Senate and sent Jeb Bush to the governor’s mansion.
Greer flexed his political muscles this year when he tried to use a parliamentary procedure to hamper former state House Speaker Marco Rubio’s candidacy to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez. Crist had jumped into the Senate race in May, garnering Greer’s support immediately.
That transformed what had been a whisper campaign against Greer into public criticism from county leaders and others throughout the state, who said the chairman had gone too far.
Rubio later characterized the Senate GOP primary as a battle for the “heart and soul” of the Republican Party in Florida.
But Greer, hand-picked by Crist, says the party is doing just fine and blames reports of its demise on a few disgruntled but vocal outliers.
“I don’t think that the party has anywhere near the problems that some are promoting in the state. In fact, I think this party in Florida is very strong and I see it each and every day,” Greer said in a telephone interview.
Indeed, the GOP holds nearly two-thirds of the seats in both the state House and Senate, along with two of the three Cabinet posts, making the rival Democrats a bare afterthought in almost all state-level decisions. That would appear to make any threat to continued Republican control remote at best.
And for all the grousing by some in hus party, Crist won 64 percent of the Republican gubernatorial primary vote just three years ago, when he defeated a candidate who had openly appealed to GOP conservatives.
Still, some in the party are restless. And Rubio’s appeal to conservatives may be based less on his principles of lower taxes, opposition to gay marriage and other core GOP ideals and more on a growing dissatisfaction among die-hard Republicans with the governor’s performance since taking office in 2007.
Crist alienated many in his party with a string of actions that separated him from even the most moderate Republicans on the national stage. He was an outspoken cheerleader for President Obama’s stimulus package, which caused some party insiders to call for a censure.
He failed to stack the Florida Supreme Court with a conservative tilt although he had the ability to do so, with four appointments during the first half of his term.
And, to many, he’s leaving the party high and dry by abandoning his office after the first term and putting the governor’s office into play when Republicans thought they had the seat locked up until 2015.
Add to that Greer’s attempt to implement “Rule 11” to thwart Rubio’s candidacy — a procedure employed to dismiss candidates that don’t have a chance of actually winning a race — and some county leaders are hopping mad.
“The disconnect between our party leadership and our grass roots is the same disconnect between our party leadership and the country,” said Palm Beach County Republican Party Chairman Sid Dinerstein. “The country favors term limits, balanced budgets, English as the official language, no amnesty and tax cuts. And the leadership doesn’t.”
Greer is staying far away from Orlando this weekend, where a party committee will hear a handful of grievances filed by county leaders who want some of the dissidents kicked out of the party.
Those on the line include members of the “Liberty Caucus,” a group of libertarians whose statewide chairman, Will Pitts, has been targeted by the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee, which wants to bar him from attending party events.
Even some of the party faithful accuse Greer of orchestrating the party purge in response to more than a dozen county Republican Executive Committees’ backlashes against the forced endorsement of Crist. Deon Long of Orlando, until recently one of the state GOP’s most influential black leaders, was recently removed from his precinct committeeman post and permanently banned from party activities for trying to stage a takeover of the Orange County party leadership.
Greer says it’s his fault the GOP’s dirty laundry is out in the open. He says he “opened a can of worms” by giving locals more power and an opportunity to speak out on the issues.
“What ends up happening as you open this can of worms up, as you create all these avenues for discussion, you also create the avenues for people to cause trouble,” he said.
But he contends he has nothing to do with the grievances filed by the county party executive committees and even tried to discourage some of them.
He says he’s in a “Catch-22”: If he does nothing, he’ll alienate party loyalists who believe that those “that are criticizing the party are doing a disservice to the party and they ought to be set out.” But if he goes along with the nine-member grievance panel’s decision to toss the accused, he’ll be seen as a bully who doesn’t tolerate dissent.
Slade said Greer’s bluster and self-confidence have earned him the reputation of having “sharp elbows.” He added that Greer iss quickly losing the troops’ respect.
“I would guess his time as state party chairman might be limited,” Slade said. “Arrogance has been the demise vehicle for more people in public office than any other single asset they may have.” Dinerstein has a different view.
“If Jim Greer has a problem it is that the party is too close to the governor with his leadership. There are advantages with the party being that close to the governor. There just aren’t advantages when the governor is so far away from the grassroots. Jeb could have gotten away with that. This governor can’t,” Dinerstein said.
That kind of talk riles Greer, who still maintains his party is united.
“Party leaders that openly and publicly criticize our governor do a disservice to the party,” he said. “That only benefits the democratic party. It promotes this idea that there’s disharmony in the party.”
Those on both sides agree that the party’s discontent in Florida echos the sentiments on the national level.
“This is a small but very vocal element that is part of the national debate. It just happens to be taking place here in Florida now too,” Greer said.