Top GOP Leaders Rallying Around John Thrasher
Most Florida Republican leaders rallied Tuesday around Sen. John Thrasher as likely interim chairman of the state GOP, saying he can end the civil war fracturing the party at the dawn of a pivotal election year.
Thrasher is being positioned as the successor to Jim Greer, who announced Tuesday that he would resign Feb. 20 after three years as chairman. For weeks, Greer had been in the crosshairs of dozens of party leaders and fundraisers, but remained defiant even in stepping aside.
“There has been a group – in my opinion, a small group – but a very vocal group seeking my resignation,” Greer said Tuesday in a 20-minute conference call with county chairmen and state committee members. “If that failed, they were intent on burning the house down and destroying the Republican Party.”
Greer said these dissidents were willing to distort facts, embarrass him and “made it very clear they will not stop.” Saying he feared for the party’s future if the bitter fight continued, the former Oviedo city councilman said he was resigning as party chief.
“I’m putting the future of the party first, as I always have done,” he added.
The move toward Thrasher was choreographed over the weekend by Attorney General Bill McCollum, along with House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. Former Gov. Jeb Bush also joined these elected officials in touting Thrasher’s candidacy after Greer’s exit.
By late Monday, Thrasher had been quietly appointed to the state Republican Executive Committee by Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, making him eligible to be elected chairman. House and Senate leaders are allowed a handful of appointments to the REC and Thrasher was named to succeed former Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, in advance of Saturday’s scheduled annual meeting of the party.
But Thrasher’s succession – while looking likely – also is prompting sparks.
Broward County State Committeewoman Sharon Day is talking about challenging him for the post of interim chair, with Bay County GOP Chairman John Salak and Broward Committeeman Ed Kennedy also saying they could not support a seated senator as party boss.
“I’m adamantly against that happening,” Kennedy said. “He’d be a major improvement over the guy we had. But it’s like the separation of church and state. You don’t want an elected official running the state party.”
Florida Democratic Party lawyer Mark Herron, an election law expert, also raised another complication to Thrasher serving as chairman. Senate rules prohibit senators from raising campaign contributions for their party during the two-month legislative session – a barrier that would keep Thrasher from engaging in a customary role for party leaders.
Saturday’s GOP annual meeting was where the Greer leadership fight was expected to play out – with more than 60 party leaders who’d signed a petition seeking his ouster poised to press for him to quit.
Former House and Senate Republican leaders and a dozen major fund-raisers also joined the tide against Greer.
“It’s a great day for the Republican Party,” Ron Richmond, a former House Republican leader turned lobbyist, said Tuesday about Greer’s decision.
In his call with party leaders, Greer took no questions and followed it with a teleconference with reporters that also was kept brief. But Greer insisted that to the end, he retained the support of Gov. Charlie Crist, who handpicked him as party leader just days after the 2006 election, in part on the strength of his Central Florida fund-raising.
But Crist was quick to praise the idea of Thrasher stepping in to restore peace in the party.
“I fully support Sen. John Thrasher to be the next chairman of the Republican Party of Florida,” Crist said in a statement. “Sen. Thrasher is a dedicated public servant and I look forward to working with him to ensure Republican victories this election cycle. He will do a great job and I have tremendous respect for him.”
Greer held out the possibility of working for Crist’s U.S. Senate campaign, saying there were “many opportunities before me,” and that he was intent on helping elect Republicans this fall.
Greer’s personal support for Crist was among the factors that helped undermine his chairmanship, along with questions about his financial management of the party. Within the party executive committee, followers of former House Speaker Marco Rubio were antagonized by Greer’s praise for the governor.
It may be noteworthy that Rubio failed to join the chorus of high-ranking Republicans praising Thrasher as Greer’s successor.
“We’re not weighing in at the moment,” Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos told the News Service of Florida.
Among county chairmen also supporting Thrasher were Brevard chief Jason Steele, who long feuded with Greer, Palm Beach County’s Sid Dinerstein, and Broward County’s Chip LaMarca.
By late Tuesday, Thrasher issued a statement saying he was “truly humbled” by those urging him to run and vowed that, if elected, he would serve only the one-year remaining in Greer’s term.
But in what could be a concession to the Crist-Rubio division, Thrasher was careful to avoid any discussion of the U.S. Senate contest in outlining a direction for the party.
“It is my goal, to not only maintain the Governor’s Mansion and regain all Cabinet positions, but to also elect new, impassioned Republicans to serve in our state Legislature, along with defending and growing the Republican majority in both chambers,” Thrasher said.