Tea Party to Target GOP Rail Backers Next Year
When lawmakers successfully passed legislation earlier this week that could bring more commuter and high speed rail to the state, 80 Republicans climbed aboard.
Two days later, conservatives “Tea Party” activists who think the rail legislation amounts to a government-sponsored boondoggle say come election time, some of those GOP lawmakers may pay the price.
In a letter to members of the newly registered Tea Party, chairman Fred O’Neal said the group will target 61 House and 19 Senate Republicans who voted in favor of rail in the recently concluded special legislative session. The measure clears the way for commuter rail projects, including SunRail in the Orlando area and sends state money to help bail out struggling Tri-Rail in South Florida.
"We are currently evaluating each individual race to determine the feasibility of running Tea Party candidates in races with a Republican incumbent who voted for the rail boondoggle and jeopardized the taxpayers of Florida,” O’Neal said.
Republican supporters of the rail package reached Thursday by the News Service of Florida said they were confident they can satisfactorily explain their votes to even the most conservative of party members.
O’Neal didn’t identify any candidates the fledgling party has recruited so far, but said he was talking to potential challengers for those who voted yes.
Meanwhile the deal's most prominent GOP supporter, Gov. Charlie Crist, said he's also not worried about conservative backlash for his vocal support for rail as he fights off a challenge from former House Speaker Marco Rubio to become the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.
"I'm not concerned about it," Crist said. "I'm concerned about jobs for the people of Florida. We all need to be focused on that. All of us serve the people and that's my focus and that's the reason why I think it was important to pass it. It's not a Republican or Democrat or liberal or conservative issue, it's a jobs issue."
One Republican who voted for the measure said he was comfortable with the final product.
“My priority was to make sure that a $2 rental surcharge was not in the bill and a group of us in the Senate was successful in doing that,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “The proposal does not in any way raise fees or taxes. It gives local governments the chance to decide on commuter rail.”
O’Neal disagreed, saying eventually taxpayers will likely be on the hook, citing the troubles Tri-Rail has had in sustaining itself.
Negron said he’s already been sending information to concerned constituents to outline his vote give them more background on the bill’s effects.
“There has been a lot of misinformation out there on the Internet,” Negron said. .
Likewise, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said he’s confidant he can weather any Tea Party storm. The bill as written will spur economic development and set the groundwork for efficient public transportation, both laudable goals, Richter said.
“My record on conservative priorities speaks for itself,” Richter said.
While a few in the GOP have dismissed grass roots conservative activists who have expressed anger at moderates in the party, many party insiders say the Tea Party faction can’t be ignored.
Charlotte County Republican Chairman Bob Starr acknowledged that Tea Party activists could turn into a potent force that might fracture the conservative strength of the Florida GOP.
"We have to figure out how we can bring these people into the fold and harness their energy toward working for Republican causes," Starr told a quarterly meeting of the state party Thursday in Tallahassee.