Scott to Hold Sit-Downs With GOP Contenders
Around the State
After campaigning as an outsider, Gov.-elect Rick Scott is ready to turn insider again Friday, sitting down for 15-minute, closed-door interviews with contenders vying to become the next Florida Republican Party chairman.
But unlike his predecessor, outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott appears unlikely to pick a favorite after meeting the field of five candidates at Orlando’s Hilton Bonnet Creek Resort, said spokesman Brian Burgess. Scott was fiercely opposed by most Florida GOP leaders until winning the August primary over insider-favorite Bill McCollum.
The party’s outgoing chairman, Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine, who rejected Scott’s brief overture to stay on in the job, also said the incoming governor looks poised to let the 257 Republican Executive Committee members and elected officials choose the next party boss – provided it turns out to be someone he can work with.
“I think he just wants to talk and listen to people, and I don’t really know if he wants to play a major role in picking the next chairman,” Thrasher said.
In the race are RPOF vice chair Deborah Cox-Roush of Hillsborough County, Sarasota County Chairman Joe Gruters, Palm Beach County Chairman Sid Dinerstein, Pinellas County State Committeeman Tony DiMatteo, and Jefferson County State Committeeman Dave Bitner, a former state legislator.
Florida Republicans rarely have such a horse race for party chairman.
Whoever wins the election, scheduled for Jan. 14 in Orlando, will have to capture a majority of the 257 ballots. The contest currently is seen as enough of a tossup that Broward County’s Sharon Day, a member of the Republican national committee, is hinting that she may step in as a consensus choice if party leaders fragment over the field of contenders.
“I’m just keeping my options open,” Day said. “We have a lot of choices out there. But I think that’s good.”
Crist surprised Florida Republican leaders when, within weeks of his election four years ago, he advanced Oviedo City Council Vice Chairman Jim Greer as party boss. Crist was convinced that Greer’s prowess as a fund-raiser and get-out-the-vote organizer in Central Florida marked him as a natural state party leader.
But Greer eventually alienated many of the state party’s county officials with his free-spending and bombastic personality. Thrasher replaced Greer as chairman in February, completing his term as party leader, after Republican officials rebelled and forced Greer’s ouster.
Greer now faces criminal fraud charges for steering thousands of dollars in party contributions to a company he controlled. Party officials say the Greer experience may shape next month’s election.
“I think Governor-elect Scott is going to let the grass-roots decide this,” said Gruters, the Sarasota leader. “You want a leader with energy and who can get along with people But the chairman’s role is really to raise as much money as you can.”
The party chief’s role pivots around fund-raising. Scott, who spent $73 million of his own cash in winning the closest governor’s race this century over Democrat Alex Sink, also is expected to play a central role in drawing contributions to the party, Thrasher and other GOP leaders say.
But like most incoming governors, Scott has already proved a money magnet. He’s collected more than $1 million for his inauguration and thousands more in undisclosed contributions to Florida’s Foundation, a nonprofit helping underwrite a five-day statewide tour on which he’s meeting with businesses and promoting job growth.
With the 2012 Republican National Convention slated for Tampa, Scott and the next party chairman also will get prominent host duties likely to elevate their profiles among major GOP insiders and the party’s presidential field.
Dinerstein, the Palm Beach party chief, said that he is looking forward to touting his candidacy to Scott. Among the planks of his campaign platform are a pitch to improve the party’s ethics, making meetings and finance books more open.
While Scott has his own “seven step plan” to create 700,000 jobs in Florida over seven years, Dinerstein thinks his ethics proposal may appeal to the incoming governor.
Dinerstein has titled his plan, “Seven Steps to Ethical Health.”