State Politics

GOP faithful in Manatee express anger over Crist decision

MANATEE — Anger and a sense of betrayal were some of the emotions Manatee County Republican Party loyalists were dealing with a day after Gov. Charlie Crist announced he would run as an independent candidate for U.S. Senate.

Kathy King, chairwoman of the Manatee County Republican Executive Committee, said Friday that she would have preferred to have seen the Republican senatorial candidate chosen by voters in a primary election and for the party to have rallied around the winner.

“There is disappointment, and the people feel betrayed,” King said, noting that many party faithful had contributed to and worked for previous Crist campaigns.

“As governor, he was the figurative leader of the party. For him to choose to leave the party, people feel betrayed by that,” King said.

After seeing his standing in polls fall steadily in recent months, as former House Speaker Marco Rubio ascended, Crist announced Thursday he was bolting the party.

Locally, Paul Sharff resigned as Florida GOP state committeeman for Manatee County to work for Crist’s election as U.S. senator.

King said she has 60 days to call for an election to seek a replacement for Sharff.

Sharff said Friday reaction has been exciting and the Crist switchboard has been tied up with calls.

The campaign raised $31,000 as 16,000 people went to the Crist election website on Thursday, Sharff said.

“I’ve had more Democrats than anything calling me. I’ve had several calls from people I don’t know,” Sharff said.

Katie Betta, communications director for the Republican Party of Florida, confirmed Friday that King has 60 days to call an election to replace Sharff. Members of the Manatee County Republican Executive Committee would vote for a replacement, Betta said.

Diane Garcia, treasurer of the East Manatee Republican Club, said she is among those angered by Crist’s defection.

“I think Charlie Crist is for Charlie Crist. When he sees he can’t win any other way, he switches directions. I’m very angry about this,” Garcia said.

Garcia said she was also disappointed in the resignation of Sharff, a life-long Republican.

King said Crist is responsible for his own fall in the polls.

Jim Greer, who was ousted as GOP state party chairman, and is at the center of a credit card scandal, was a Crist appointee.

“We hold him (Crist) accountable for the appointment. He lobbied hard for the party to accept that appointment,” King said, adding the scandal could have been avoided with another appointee.

The centrist Crist also lost ground to the more conservative Rubio for his literal embrace on-stage of President Barack Obama, for his acceptance of federal stimulus money, and for his appointment of Judge James E.C. Perry to the Florida Supreme Court, King said.

Joan Shirey, president of the East Manatee Republican Club, said she liked Crist, and voted for him in previous campaigns, but believes he made a mistake in quitting the party.

“I’m disappointed in Charlie. Anybody who can’t stand the heat should get out of the kitchen,” Shirey said.

Dr. Craig Trigueiro, president of the Lakewood Ranch Republican Club, said there is a perception that politicians don’t tell the truth, a perception reinforced by Crist who earlier pledged not to run as an independent.

“I’m not sure if he’s going to change his name to Benedict Arnold Crist or Charlie Spector. I’ve voted for Charlie Crist every time he’s run for office. We took him at his word that he wouldn’t run as an independent. I’m not sure what it says about Charlie Crist keeping his word, or maybe it says everything.”

But Sharff said the legislature put Crist in a bind when it passed controversial Senate Bill 6, governing teacher pay and tenure that prompted a street protest in Manatee County and sick-outs elsewhere. Crist had no option but to veto the bill, Sharff said.

“If he had signed it, it would have done an injustice to the teachers. He has been a champion for children forever,” Sharff said.

Crist is bringing in a new team to run his campaign, and the election could work some changes in the nation, Sharff said.

He predicted that if Crist wins the Senate seat, he would caucus with Republicans, rather than Democrats like Sen. Joe Lieberman.

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