The reverberations from Monday’s Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting continued on Wednesday when School Board Chair April Griffin said she was denied the opportunity to run for the DEC chair position a year ago by Ione Townsend, who ended up running as the only candidate to replace Elizabeth Belcher.
In a posting on her Facebook page, Griffin said that with no groundswell of support for a chair to succeed Belcher, she had given the idea serious consideration and decided she would run for DEC chair.
“By the by-laws, I was an at-large member and that would allow me to run,” she writes. But she says that shortly after she announced her interest she received a phone call that Townsend had received an opinion disputing her ability to serve as an officer in the DEC.
“There was a lot of back and forth, a lot of brain power from my friends and people who wanted me to be chair trying to figure out a way to make it work,” Griffin writes. “But the fact of the matter was that Ione had the opinion she wanted and her mind was made up. She wanted to be chair and used the rules to keep a fair election from happening.”
With an audible sigh, Townsend responded that, “I just wish people would study and understand the rules.”
Townsend says that by statute and Florida Democratic Party by-laws, no one could run for office unless they were elected to serve as a precinct captain. “Plain and simple,” she says.
Townsend defeated Alan Wolfe in January to become chair of the DEC. A third candidate, Michael Newett, dropped out right before the voting was to take place.
In a followup phone call on Wednesday, Griffin said she didn’t want to get into a back and forth exchange with Townsend, but said that she had attorneys and other party members seriously studying the issue.
“I would have brought a different feeling and brought some things to the party that could have been very beneficial,” Griffin says. “But at the end of the day, I decided that I wasn’t going to fight for it, and I walked away.”
Griffin says that feeling of frustration and disenfranchisement hit her hard on Monday night, when she and fellow school board member Susan Valdes and five Tampa City Council members were told that because of an interpretation of the by-laws regarding nonpartisan elected Democrats, they would not be given the opportunity to vote on party officers for the next two years, including party chair, vice chair and state committeeman and committeewoman.
Griffin said she didn’t write her Facebook post for it to be reported on by the media per se, but wanted people she knew to understand the background behind her reaction at Monday’s DEC meeting when she learned that she would not be able to cast a ballot.
“How can we stand up and fight against voter suppression, when we’re doing it ourselves?” Griffin asks.
Meanwhile, speculation continues to surface that the by-law change had more to do with thwarting Alan Clendenin from being elected as State Committeeman.
By losing on Monday night, Clendenin’s aspirations of becoming state party chair are now gone, since Florida Democratic Party rules state that to be eligible for that office, one has to be a party chair, vice chair, or committeeman or committeewoman.
That theory got more fuel on Tuesday when Cathy James, a candidate for school board last month, wrote that “the reason for the maneuver to exclude nonpartisan elected officials is very simple. It was to keep Alan Clendenin from being elected to State Committeeman, and by extension, Chair of the Florida Democratic Party. “
When asked about that statement, Townsend said she had only heard of that theory on Tuesday, and denied any involvement in “a conspiracy theory.”
“I can tell you that I consulted with my parliamentarian, Michael Steinberg, and the FDP Rules Co-Chair (Rick Boylan), and those were the only people I spoke with.”
“I’ve always been taught that you’re safe if you follow the rules,” Townsend continued, regarding the entire controversy. “Would I have changed anything I’ve done? No, we followed a process. It was democracy at work. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked out.”
Based on the commentary on social media from some Hillsborough Democrats since Monday night, however, that summation of the events clearly isn’t shared universally.