The Republican Party of Florida kicked off the 2016 election year with offers of truces from Gov. Rick Scott and incoming Florida Senate leaders though the party still will have less of the state’s Republican campaign money and political messaging under its control.
With unity being a critical theme in a presidential election year commonly carried by Democrats, an emissary for Scott and incoming Senate President Joe Negron both pledged just that Saturday at the party’s annual meeting in Orlando. The pledges come a year after a Scott and current Senate President Andy Gardiner effectively split with Florida GOP leadership, took back money they had contributed to the party, and set out to run fundraising, Republican campaigns and agenda messaging more independently of the party.
The rift occurred after state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill got elected the new chairman of the RPOF in what had essentially been a grassroots coup last January, ousting Scott’s hand-picked party chief, Leslie Dougher. Ingoglia, calling for a party refocus on grassroots, then cleaned house of much of the RPOF staff under Dougher, infuriating Gardiner.
But now, about 10 months from the general election, everyone is insisting they want to be on the same page.
The money that Scott and Gardiner removed from RPOF coffers is not likely to come back; and Scott, the Senate Republicans and others will continue to run their independent political committees to promote Republican campaigns and political agendas. But Saturday everyone vowed to be on the same page, and even help the RPOF with its fundraising.
“Governor Scott’s agenda is the party’s agenda, and the party’s agenda is the governor’s agenda,” Scott Hopes, a medical services executive who is a Scott designee to the party, told the RPOF general meeting.
And he offered more, an end to outright competition for Republican contributions. In the past year, Scott’s fundraising efforts have focused on his own Let’s Get To Work committee rather than the party.
“We are calling on all Republicans across the state to unify for the cause, including raising money for the party,” Hopes said. “Mr. Chairman, we look forward to helping you raise money for the party.”
“We love the governor,” he told the meeting. “The governor is the head of the party, and, like Scott [Hopes] said, the governor’s agenda is our agenda, and our agenda is the governor’s agenda.”
Ingoglia insisted in his report to the party that it “has never been in a better position than we are in right now.”
But it has been a challenging year as the splits of the governor and Senate president accelerated what might have been an inevitable shift anyway, how the party itself can raise money and direct the Republican campaigning and messaging. Nationwide super PACs and other committees have been rising to compete with national and local parties for money and control of candidates’ campaigns and political messages.
Ingoglia insisted later that the party and the governor’s staff have never fallen out of communication. But he added, “Any involvement the governor has with the party, we welcome.”