by Javier Manjarres
With the Republican Party of Florida’s Chairman’s election only two weeks away, it was only a matter of time before the political knives came out and the candidate back-stabbing commenced. The coveted 2-year term of ‘Grand Poobah’ of the state GOP party is be sought by (5) well known and liked REC Chairmen and Committeemen that look to take over for outgoing Chairman State Senator John Thrasher. Just this past week, the Tampa Bay-area blog SaintPetersblog reported that front-runner and current RPOF Vice Chairwoman Debbie Cox-Roush was arrested back in 2004 for driving under the influence, handing her campaign for RPOF Chair a setback. Cox-Roush was very candid about the details of the incident and expressed regret about her mistake, and she has since moved on.
Cox-Roush has also been under scrutiny for using her catering company to assist with local GOP events-events she said have saved the party thousands of dollars. Some have questioned her loyalty to Republican candidates in the past, but most do not, since she has staunch supporter of many victorious campaigns, especially that of Senator-elect Marco Rubio. The other candidates in the race- David Bitner, Tony DiMatteo, and Sid Dinerstein also backed Rubio when the Republican primary was still being contested- with the exception of Gruters, who supported Rubio after he had won the primary election.
Gruters, whom I have met and have found to be a very amicable person, has a long history of supporting now Independent Governor Charlie Crist. But after Governor Crist betrayed the GOP by embracing the failed Obama Stimulus plan, most Republicans began to retract their support for Crist, while Gruters did not. Crist’s embrace of the Obama Stimulus was just the beginning of many opportunistic policy decisions, including his support for ObamaCare, his veto of SB 6, and his tax increase (cigarette tax) that culminated in the mother of all political defeats just a few months ago. The Crist faithful stayed steadfast in their support of Crist, including Mr. Gruters.
In fact, Gruters’ support of Governor Charlie Crist didn’t miss a beat even as Crist was completely reinventing himself as a candidate in order to appeal to Democrats:
May 13, 2009 “Gov. Crist is exactly what we need because if we don’t increase the size of our tent, we’re going to be in big trouble in our future.” — Joe Gruters, chairman of the Sarasota, Fla. Republican Party (The Miami Herald, May 13, 2009)
Read : http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1898151,00.html#ixzz18reuHTCM
August 24, 2009 Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Sarasota GOP chairman says straw poll divisive. “[The straw poll] is unnecessarily divisive within the party… there’s no chance [Crist’s] not our next US senator.” –Joe Gruters http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20090824/COLUMNIST/908241028
This statement is very interesting because the Broward GOP was also attempting to prevent a straw poll at about the same time- straw polls that Rubio would have won, which would have further damaged Governor Crist’s campaign. The Broward GOP Chairman at the time was Crist loyalist, Chip LaMarca. At the contentious August Broward REC meeting, then Committee Secretary, and now Chairman Richard Lee DeNapoli fought hard to defeat the motion to conduct a straw poll, actually using the same verbiage Gruters used. DeNapoli was a staunch supporter of Crist, stated that Rubio would never win, and even went as far as publicly heckling now Senator-elect Marco Rubio. This kind of behavior was seen by all as ‘Greer-esque’ in nature.
October 11, 2009 Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Gruters compares Rubio’s campaign to the 2005 Katherine Harris campaign that was opposed by “party leaders” (AKA: establishment) but supported by grass roots, which eventually never translated into fundraising or polling success. “Gruters said Rubio is falling into the same trap, mistaking right-wing Republican support at grass-roots events for wider support,” the article reads. “It will not be a close race at the end of the day.” –Joe Gruters http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20091011/ARTICLE/910111078?p=4&tc=pg
Here Gruters further downplays the importance of grassroots activists and their support and condescendingly labels them “right-wing.” He indirectly undermines Marco Rubio’s chances by comparing him to a flawed candidate, going so far as to say that Crist will win no matter what. Remember that at this point, the Rubio campaign and its supporters were fighting to disprove that narrative, and people like Gruters were only making it more difficult.
December 14, 2009 St. Pete Times Buzz Blog article on Charlie Crist being awarded Sarasota REC’s “Statesman of the Year.” “Charlie Crist, as the head of the Republican Party of Florida, has accomplished a tremendous amount since his time as governor… Charlie Crist is a proven leader.” –Joe Gruters
Sarasota REC under Gruters named Crist its “Statesman of the Year” around the time Rubio was catching up in the polls. As president of the FFYR, Brian Graham—Gruter’s current campaign manager—did the same in January of 2010, awarding Crist the FFYR Hall of Fame award.
February 23, 2010 Governor Charlie Crist appoints Joe Gruters to the Florida Sports Foundation. “I am a good multi-tasker and I have a very helpful and accommodating wife” Gruters said about all of his roles.
March 2010 Issue of SRQ Magazine, Rattlebag Section: “Marco Rubio has also supported positions that were not that conservative. That has yet to come out yet. [sic.]” –Joe Gruters http://www.srqmagazine.com/issues/issueDetail.cfm?iteID=1284
Here Gruters takes a swipe at Marco Rubio, questioning his conservative credentials.
April 30 2010 Issue of SRQ Magazine, Today’s News Section: “I think he has done a good job as our Republican governor. He always put the people first, but that’s irrelevant. We are here to help out the primary winner… I feel very bad for the people who want to be loyal to the governor. From my perspective, we can’t alienate these guys.” http://www.srqmagazine.com/JMailer/showMassMail.cfm?masID=1918
It is telling that Joe Gruters, a county Republican Chairman, actually took the opportunity to compliment Charlie Crist the same day he abandoned the Republican Party, and he only begrudgingly threw his support behind the “primary winner” without even bothering to give the name of the Party’s Primary winner- Marco Rubio. To top it all off, he expressed his sympathy for the unprincipled and opportunistic Republicans who wanted to remain loyal to the disloyal governor who had just bolted from his party.
+++UPDATE (7:35 PM)+++
Brian Graham, campaign manager for Joe Gruters, responds to the Shark Tank:
“Joe Gruters is a solid conservative. He’s pro-life, anti-tax, and a strong supporter of our second amendment rights. Almost every Republican leader in Florida supported Governor Crist at some point.
When Charlie Crist left the Republican Party, Joe Gruters left Charlie Crist. Chairman Gruters was an outspoken supporter of our Republican Nominee Marco Rubio.
As Sarasota REC Chairman Joe Gruters even asked members of his REC to resign due to their support of Crist’s NPA Senate bid.”