Thrasher Blames Crist for the Party’s Greer Woes
Florida Republican Party Chairman John Thrasher said Friday that Gov. Charlie Crist’s name didn’t emerge at the huddle of the GOP’s executive board, but those attending clearly see him as central to the troubled era of ousted chairman Jim Greer.
“The governor is the guy who pretty much placed Chairman Greer in the position he did,” Thrasher said, during a break in an expected daylong, closed-door meeting of party leaders.
“Every one of these people who are here today are volunteers,” he added. “It’s not like a corporate board where you’re paid a fee or whatever and have a higher degree of scrutiny.”
Thrasher acknowledged, however, that the governor’s name didn’t come up during the morning session of the party meeting. Thrasher, who doubles as a St. Augustine senator, has become distant from Crist since the governor vetoed a teacher merit-pay bill he sponsored that also was backed by most Florida Republican leaders.
Crist has until next Friday to decide whether he will continue to run for U.S. Senate as a Republican candidate in a primary polls show him losing to former House Speaker Marco Rubio.
Instead of Crist, much of the focus Friday was on GOP spending during Greer’s three-year chairmanship, during which hundreds of thousands of dollars was rung-up on party credit cards by Greer and other officials, including Rubio, House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, Senate President Jeff Atwater and disgraced ex-speaker Ray Sansom.
Thrasher said audit reviews show the party typically issued 21 American Express cards annually during Greer’s three years as chairman. Details of spending on those cards have not been released publicly, but media reports show they were used for purchases ranging from meals and rooms at upscale resorts to private plane trips.
Oil portraits of Crist, former executive director Delmar Johnson and Greer also were commissioned by the party while Greer was at the helm.
Thrasher said that he told board members Friday that as part of efforts to “turn the page,” he vowed to not travel extensively out-of-state, and that any trips will be by commercial airline or his own car. Every expense report he submits will be reviewed by party auditors, Thrasher said.
The Friday meeting was held at Tallahassee’s Hotel Duval, which Florida Democrats ridiculed as a high-end luxury hotel. Party officials, however, said the function room they rented for the event cost only $400.
Thrasher conceded that spending by Greer and other party officials may have burnished the image of the party as one grounded in elitism. But Thrasher predicted that will not hurt Republican candidates this election season.
“It may have given the appearance of that, but that’s not what our party is about,” Thrasher said. “The people who were involved in that are gone, particularly today after the total removal of Jim Greer from our executive committee. I think we’ve turned a page and we’re heading in the right direction.”
Earlier Friday, party leaders stripped Greer of his place on the GOP executive board and post as Seminole County Republican committeeman. Greer is suing the state party to recover a disputed severance package worth at least his $123,000 annual salary.
While the lawsuit is likely to keep Republican Party spending as a front-burner issue well into campaign season, Thrasher said the GOP is content that its strategy of running against policies of the Obama administration will pay off.
“The gift that keeps on giving in Washington is still there,” Thrasher said.