Day Considers Run for RPOF Chair, Thrasher Still Favored
Sen. John Thrasher’s likely rise to chairman of the Florida Republican Party can be easily reduced to a Facebook relationship status.
A day after he emerged as the favorite of Florida’s top elected Republicans to succeed besieged chairman Jim Greer, Thrasher’s potential succession continued Wednesday to prompt questions and controversy.
Broward County State Committeewoman Sharon Day said she is considering running for the chair’s spot and would appear poised to draw support from a small pool of GOP leaders openly angered by Thrasher’s selection by party office-holders.
“This is a monumental decision we are about to make,” Deborah Cox Roush, the Hillsborough County Republican chair, told the News Service of Florida. “Like a lot of people, I don’t know John Thrasher. I need to be educated about him. I’d be letting down my county Republicans if I just turned around and endorsed him.”
Broward state committeeman Ed Kennedy and Bay County Republican chairman John Salak are among Republican Executive Committee members who have said they could not support a seated senator serving as party chairman.
With Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum, and incoming legislative leaders Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, clearly in his camp, Thrasher has some powerful allies.
But Thrasher also is going to have to devote efforts before the anticipated Feb. 20 chairman’s election schmoozing many party leaders who know him only as a former House speaker and newly elected senator from St. Augustine.
He was appointed to the Republican Executive Committee, making him eligible to be elected chairman, only hours before Greer announced he would step down as party boss.
“He’s going to have to spend some time sitting down with these folks,” said David Johnson, a former Florida GOP executive director. “He’s got to calm this vocal minority. But he should be good at that. John’s got a very easy personality.”
Al Hoffman, a former state and national Republican finance chairman, was among a dozen big party fundraisers whose letter calling for Greer’s ouster helped shape the three-year chairman’s resignation Tuesday.
Hoffman said he likes Thrasher. But he conceded that having a senator serve as state party chief is not “ideal.”
“The ideal candidate would be able to spend full time on the job,” Hoffman said Wednesday.
Hoffman said he wanted a fulltime chairman with the “highest integrity who is well known within the party, so he doesn’t have to sell himself.”
An additional complication rests in Senate rules which prohibit Thrasher from raising money for the party during the two-month legislative session. Florida Democratic Party lawyer Mark Herron also said that conventional interpretation of the rules would bar the Florida GOP from accepting any contributions during a session where Thrasher is party chairman.
Florida Republicans will likely seek to nuance that rule to avoid a two-month blackout on campaign contributions this election year. But as of Wednesday, Hoffman and others conceded they did not know what strategy would be deployed.
“I’ve got to hand it to the Democrats for coming up with this,” Hoffman said. “But this is an election year, and (Republicans) have got to raise a ton of dough.”
Thrasher’s role as Senate Ethics and Elections Committee chairman also could be troubled if he takes the party reins.
Thrasher sought out the post with the pledge that he would work to crack down on 527 committees, the unregulated committees used by fellow elected officials and allies of both Democratic and Republican candidates.
Spending by such committees accounted for some of the harshest-edged advertising during Thrasher’s special election campaign last fall.
But Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said Thrasher as party leader would be “clearly conflicted,” as elections committee chairman. His dual role also could tarnish what Lawson called the bipartisan decorum of the Florida Senate.
“He’s going to be trying to raise money to defeat Democrats in the Senate,” Lawson said. “I think this ruins the decorum. It just looks bad.”