On Friday — timed just right to minimize news coverage — Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer and the state party Grievance Committee notified a number of party members, many of them holding elective office, that they were effectively purged from the party and had been removed from their offices and would be ineligible to hold any other party positions for periods ranging from two to four years.
The targets of this purge are mostly members of the Florida chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a group which seeks to return the party to its core beliefs of individual liberty, limited government, and free markets. These particular individuals were targeted because they had expressed opinions critical of party policy, candidates, and office holders, on the basis of which the grievance committee decided that they had "engaged in disruptive conduct likely to interfere with the activities of the Republican Party." Acting on the committee's recommendation, Chairman Greer issued letters stripping them of their offices and rights as party members.
This is the culmination of an ongoing assault by a party establishment dominated by big-government Republican hacks seeking to silence grassroots activists who are trying to reform the party and bring it back to the values on which it was founded. Previous actions against the RLC include an attempt to prevent them from using the word “Republican” in their name, despite the fact that the group has used the title for almost 20 years and obtained permission in writing from the party for the use of the name under a prior administration.
The current actions may be at least partially driven by the success of the RLC in Florida, where it has grown to be one of the largest political groups in the state, and by the outspoken support of many members for Marco Rubio, who is challenging incumbent Governor Charlie Crist in the next senatorial election. Many RLC activists supported Ron Paul in the last presidential primary and were not enthusiastic about the McCain nomination, drawing criticism from the party establishment. Also at issue were demands for an audit of the state party and an investigation into financial improprieties by Orange County Chairman Lew Oliver.
The complaint against Florida RLC Chairman Will Pitts was typical of the type of issues raised against the targets of the purge. Pitts attended a Campaign for Liberty event, wore a Ron Paul button after the primary, went to an End the Fed rally and was critical of GOP leaders, including describing Chairman Greer and Governor Crist as "pathetic and embarrassing."
On the basis of actions like these, which amount to little more than having an opinion which is unpopular with the party leadership, Pitts was banned from serving in any official office in the RPOF for two years plus another two years of probation, during which expressing an unapproved opinion will presumably lead to further punishment. Other RLC members targeted include Nick Egoroff of Orlando who was expelled for four years, Northeast Florida RLC Chairman John Stevens who was removed from his office as a Precinct Committeeman and banned from office until 2013 which is after the next election cycle, and RLC board member Elizabeth Campbell who was stripped of her position as a Committeewoman in Escambia County. Others targeted in the purge include Brevard Republican Chairman Jason Steele, Orange County Precinct Committeeman Deon Long and anti-tax activist Doug Guetzloe of Orange County. Egoroff plans to file a lawsuit against Greer and the state party.
It is troubling to see these purges directed at loyal grassroots activists like Will Pitts and John Stevens who have been working hard for years to build up the Republican Party in Florida, bring in new blood and encourage reforms and a return to Republican ideals. It's outrageous that they have been punished by the Florida Party for little more than expressing personal opinions which were not popular with a leadership which has no tolerance for dissent or speech which doesn't match their version of political correctness. The GOP has always been a "Big Tent" with room for diversity of opinion and a respect for the right of free expression, but in Florida under Greer the rules are more like those of the Soviet Communists who believed that slavish subservience to the party was more important than individual rights.
Who can blame these activists for their honest disagreement with the policies which have taken the GOP away from its principles of limited government and individual liberty, sold its soul to special interests, and brought it to a reduced status as a minority party in both houses of Congress? The party needs them and their idealism far more than it needs leaders like Greer who defend the status quo with purges and suppression of dissent.
It's also disturbing that many of those purged held offices which they were voted into in a public election. It is fundamentally wrong that party officials should negate the vote of the people for such petty reasons. The will of the people is not lightly flaunted and there will be a price to be paid in the next election for riding roughshod over the voters and party rank and file who see the need for change which the leadership is blindly resisting.
Party leaders ought to be looking to the RLC for a new generation of leadership, not singling them out for punishment for stating truths which ought to be obvious. This purge is a direct attack on loyal Republicans who just want to see the Party live up to its avowed beliefs. Healthy debate makes the party stronger and enthusiastic grassroots activists like these should not be punished for commitment to principle or idealism, even when it leads them to openly criticize the leaders who have failed them and the party.
The national board of the Republican Liberty Caucus has issued a strongly worded press release in support of the Florida chapter urging their members nationwide to write letters to newspapers and national party officials protesting the purges.