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GOP elects Thrasher as new chairman

ORLANDO — Sen. John Thrasher was elected Saturday as the new chairman of a state Republican Party that’s trying to put reports of wasteful spending and financial mismanagement behind it.

Party leaders hope Thrasher will bring stability to a party that’s being left nearly broke by Jim Greer, Gov. Charlie Crist’s hand-picked chairman who earned a reputation for spending money on private jets, lavish meals and excessive entertaining.

“Not only will we raise money, we’ll take great care on how those funds are expended. Our donors deserve nothing less. From the administration to campaign operations, our goal will be to make every single penny count,” Thrasher said before the vote.

“I believe I’m experienced enough to understand the difference between value and largess.”

He has promised to bring in a private auditor to review the party’s financial books. He also noted that during his six weeks campaigning for the position, he helped raise $1 million for the party.

Greer announced his resignation last month and presided over the election of his replacement, saying briefly that he was proud of his accomplishments over this three years as the party’s leader.

Others have described his time as chairman as disgraceful, particularly after it was reported that he signed a secret contract with then-executive director Delmar Johnson that raised Johnson’s compensation to more than $400,000.

Thrasher called for party unity as it moves forward in an important election year. Every statewide seat on the ballot is open — governor, senator, agriculture commissioner, chief financial officer and attorney general.

“We are focusing on beating the enemy, not beating ourselves. We are not each other’s enemies,” Thrasher said.

“Our enemy is the liberal media and the Democrats.”

Thrasher beat Sharon Day 135-85. Thrasher was backed by the state’s top elected leaders. Day is the National Republican Committee secretary.

Carole Jean Jordan, who chaired the party for four years before Greer replaced her in 2007, said she is confident Thrasher will restore trust in the party.

“He has incredible character and an incredible ability to get things done, whether it’s political, whether it’s business acumen or just working with people and I think he’ll do very well at uniting the party,” Jordan said. “He’ll bring in a political operation that makes sure we win in November.”

Thrasher is a former House speaker who was working as a lobbyist until being elected to the Senate last year. He said he will turn over party fundraising responsibilities to former Speaker Allan Bense when the Legislature begins it’s 60-day session next month.

Hillsborough County GOP Chairwoman Deborah Cox Roush was elected the party’s vice chair.

“We’ll be fine,” Cox Roush said about party’s troubles. “It’s time to stop looking at the past and start looking to the future and this party is going to be strong. We’re going to do what it takes to bring integrity back.”

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