Hillsborough GOP chooses Deborah Tamargo to be its new party chair

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In a close election, Hillsborough County Republicans on Tuesday night chose former state Rep. Deborah Tamargo to be their new party chair, defeating former party chair Debbie Cox-Roush on a 110-80 vote. She succeeds Brandon state Sen. Tom Lee, who has led the local party for the past two years.

Tamargo had been running for weeks on what she called a “Unity Ticket,” a slate that also featured candidates for vice chair, treasurer and secretary. They had been the lone candidates for all the positions up for election before Cox-Roush got into the race late, and made it extremely competitive at the end.

Tamargo has been in the party for decades. She may be best known as the rare Republican who was elected and served in the West Tampa state House seat, winning a special election in 1997. However, she lost the seat a year later in her re-election bid. (It’s currently occupied by Democrat Janet Cruz.) She has served on a number of boards in both the public and private sector since then, and has been a constant presence in the party.

Cox-Roush, on the other hand,  was attempting a comeback of sorts. She previously served as the party chair from 2008-2011 before stepping down to work on former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s campaign. She had been at Lee’s side the past two years as the Republican Executive Committee’s vice chair, and served as vice chair of the state party between 2010 and 2011. She was unsuccessful in 2011 in running for state party chair.

Tomargo had laid out a detailed five point platform ahead of the vote, including seeking to find new and innovative ways to fund-raise. She specifically mentioned “multiple” Lincoln dinners, national speakers and collaborations with other local RECs to reach that goal.

Former party chair Art Wood (2011-2012) was one of three speakers who gave nominating speeches for Tamargo. He said she would aggressively reach out to seek new people for the party, specifically mentioning “minorities, college students and all different ranks.”

In her nominating speech, Cox-Rousch said she was “humbled” by the calls she received after Sen. Lee said  he wasn’t interested in pursuing the party chair position for another two years. She was exceedingly humble, saying it wasn’t about her, “it’s about you.” Later on she said it wasn’t about her vision, but “your vision.”

There had been some criticism during the short campaign about Tamargo’s ability to fund-raise. Cox-Roush brought that issue to light once, saying that “we need both the money and the passion of our grassroots members, if we’re going to be successful in the coming elections. ” But ultimately, it didn’t make a difference.

Unlike the vast majority of elected Hillsborough Democrats, who couldn’t be bothered to attend their party chair election last week, there were a number of local GOP state legislators in attendance, including Dan Raulerson, Jamie Grant,  Shawn Harrison, Ross Spano and Jake Raburn.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.