Florida TEA Party Drawing Heat for Questionable Candidates
The Tea Party continued to keep state politics at full boil Monday, accusing Florida Republicans of trying to intimidate some of the conservative candidates they’ve steered into state House races.
Doug Guetzloe, the freeswinging Orlando political consultant mentoring the Florida Tea Party movement, found fuel for his own round of charges when he was told by a Central Florida talk radio station that it would no longer air his hourlong show weekday mornings.
Guetzloe said he paid $2,500 monthly to WEUS-AM 810 for the show. But Monday’s show was short-circuited minutes before airtime when Guetzloe said station officials told him that he was “screwing up the Republican Party.”
“It’s political retribution,” Guetzloe told the News Service of Florida. “The Republican Party is just scared to death.”
But WEUS co-owner Carl Como dismissed the claim, saying the station merely wanted to reclaim the hour during which Guetzloe’s show aired. Como said he wanted to broadcast an expanded, three-hour version of the syndicated show hosted by conservative superstar Laura Ingraham, saying it was more popular with listeners.
“That’s totally erroneous,” Como said of Guetzloe’s charge. “If he’s spinning that, he’s spinning a lie.”
Como acknowledged he did cut ties with a subcontractor working at the station, Raul Pantoja Rodriguez, who is running as a Tea Party candidate for House District 73. But Como said the move came because Rodriguez took a turn on-air Friday during Guetzloe’s time slot but failed to mention that he was a candidate for state office.
“I felt that when he became an announced candidate, that brought up a fairness issue,” Como said.
Rodriguez lists an Orlando address but is running in a vacant Lee County seat where four Republican candidates are vying to run against Democrat Cole Peacock in November. Republicans have accused the Tea Party of working to steer its 15 House candidates and one Senate contender into districts where they could divide the conservative vote and possibly help elect a Democratic candidate.
The Tea Party activists deny such collusion.
“We want to get true citizen-patriots on the ballot and elected,” said Nick Egoroff, a Florida Tea Party spokesman. “The Republicans are the party of incumbency and that’s what they’re looking to protect.”
Tea Party officials said one of its candidates, Stephen Taylor of Tallahassee, who had been a registered Democrat before joining the third-party movement, is withdrawing as a candidate for the seat now held by Rep. Debbie Boyd, D-Newberry, after he had a “discussion with a paid GOP operative,” who warned that Taylor and his family could come under criminal investigation if he continued his campaign.
Florida Republican spokesman Katie Betta dismissed the accusation, adding that the Tea Party was “effectively stealing votes from true conservative candidates and injuring the grassroots Tea Party movement as a whole.
“If they want to talk about improprieties, they should start by revealing by what means they convinced young, recently-registered Democrats to run for elected office in districts hundreds of miles away from their residences,” Betta said.
Still, Florida Tea Party chairman Fred O’Neal, an Orlando lawyer, said he was looking to file criminal complaints in federal court and with the U.S. Justice Department about alleged GOP tactics.
One candidate, Jose Alvarez, a former head of the Osceola County Realtors Association, told the News Service that he felt Rep. Mike Horner’s visit to his office last week, two days before the close of qualifying, was designed to push him out of the race.
Alvarez said he was surprised by the sudden visit, in which he said Horner, R-Kissimmee, tried to talk him out of running. Instead, Alvarez went ahead and filed papers to run against the first-term incumbent.
“Him coming to my office to talk just gave me more motivation to run,” Alvarez said. “It’s not right for him to think he can tell me I shouldn’t run.”
Horner said Monday that his stopping by Alvarez’s office was not designed to intimidate – but rather to warn him against getting caught up in what he called a “fake tea party” movement.
“I’ve known Jose for a while, and I really encouraged him to run as a Republican if he wanted to run,” Horner said. “I just don’t want to see him get used by these people.”