Rest in peace, Mr. Chairman: RPOF’s Dave Bitner has died after battle with ALS ***Updated***

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Subject says it all. Details to follow as they come in.

Statement from RPOF Vice Chair Lenny Curry:

With sadness and a heavy heart, I must report that Florida has lost a great leader and public servant. Today, the Republican Party of Florida’s Chairman Dave Bitner lost his courageous battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

It has been the honor of a lifetime to work by Chairman Bitner’s side. Not only was Dave a born leader, he was an exemplary man in every sense. In honor of his example, I am committed to ensure that the Republican Party of Florida continues its tradition of service to our beloved state.

I ask all Floridians to join me in offering our thoughts and prayers for Dave and his remarkable wife Wendy. Through Dave’s battle with ALS, I watched as Wendy was the embodiment of love and compassion. I pray that Dave enjoy the peace that comes from our God, and that Wendy feel God’s love and strength in this time of grief.

In lieu of flowers the family suggests contributions to J.O.Y. (Jefferson Outreach for Youth, Inc) P.O. Box 206, Lloyd, FL 32337. Friends may visit online at www.robersonfh.com to sign the memory book and extend condolences to the family. Arrangements by Roberson Funeral Home & Crematory Port Charlotte Chapel.

A compilation of messages and reactions:

3:38 p.m. – Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam: “I remember Dave Bitner as a warm, gregarious and larger than life figure who was a champion for free enterprise in the Legislature and an example of inner strength. His faith and spirit were on display in these recent, difficult months for all to witness. Dave and Wendy have shown us how to be courageous and demonstrate character in the face of adversity. His passion for Florida and fellow man was contagious.  My thoughts and prayers are with Wendy and the rest of the Bitner family.”

3:29 p.m. – Governor Rick Scott: “Knowing that Chairman Bitner faced an uphill battle with his illness did not make this morning’s news any less of a shock.  Dave Bitner was a big man with a vibrant personality and a vision to match.  Ann and I will miss him very much, and our immediate thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Wendy.”

2:09 p.m. – Former Majority Leader Adam Hasner: “This is a sad day for the state of Florida. Dave Bitner wasn’t just a splendid public servant and dedicated conservative Floridian, he was also a dear friend. His leadership and unbending strength will be missed for years to come. Both Jillian and I send our deepest sympathies and prayers to Wendy and the entire Bitner family.”

1:48 p.m. – Deborah Cox-Roush’s statement can be read here.

1:47 p.m. – Former LG Jeff Kottkamp: Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Please keep Wendy Bitner in your prayers.

1:22 p.m. – Attorney General Pam Bondi: “It is with great sadness that I learned of Chairman Bitner’s untimely passing this morning.  Chairman Bitner restored honor, confidence, and vitality to the Republican Party this year, and we will be forever grateful for the optimistic and forward-looking vision he quickly established.  His dynamic personality and commitment to conservative ideals have left an indelible imprint on our Party that will never be forgotten.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Dave’s wonderful wife Wendy and their family.”

1:10 p.m. – Rep. James Grant: “No doubt David Bitner’s passing is a huge loss. We are all praying for you Wendy.”

1:09 p.m. – RNC Chair Reince Preibus: “Our thoughts and prayers are with David Bitner’s family today. We are grieving with you.”

1:06 p.m. – Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner: “The impact of Dave Bitner’s life will remain in the hearts and minds of the countless people he touched in his lifetime. I’ve admired Dave since meeting him in the Legislature when I served as a young aide. He was a true friend and has always been a man of great character and integrity. As his health declined, Dave’s dedication to his role as Party Chairman took remarkable courage and resolve. His loss leaves a hole in our hearts, and I pray that his family finds strength and comfort at this time. I feel blessed to have known him and will miss him deeply.”

1:06 p.m. – Rep. Scott Plakon: My friend and Republican Party of Florida Chairman Dave Bitner has just passed away. We have lost a great man and a great leader. Dave is no longer held back by the ALS that was holding him back and is now walking with Jesus, but please pray for his wonderful wife Wendy Wojdula Bitner and family.

1:04 p.m. – Rep. Seth McKeel: Our state is a better place because of its servant, Dave Bitner. Thank you Dave for all you did. God bless you, Wendy, and peace be with all of your family at this time. May you find comfort in knowing the value of your sacrifices for Florida.

12:47 p.m. – US Rep. Steve Southerland: Sending prayers for Dave Bitner’s wife, Wendy, & their family during this very tough time. Dave’s friendship & leadership will be missed.

12:44 p.m. – Florida Democratic Party Chair Rod Smith: “Throughout his entire career, Chairman Bitner was a tireless advocate for the people of Florida and the state and party he dearly loved. His strength of character and dedication were respected by all who knew andworked with him, even those of us on the opposing side. His memory will not be forgotten. With a heavy heart, we send our thoughts and prayers to his family.”

12:37 p.m. – CFO Jeff Atwater: Today, we lost a statesman & public servant. Chairman Bitner’s dedication and love for Florida will be greatly missed.

12:34 p.m. – US Senate candidate Mike McCalister: Chairman Bitner was a courageous man. Our hearts are saddened today with his passing. My prayers go out to his wife Wendy and his family.

12:29 p.m. – Senator Mike Haridopolos: Stephanie and I were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of David Bitner. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bitner family.

12:28 p.m. – Former Senator George LeMieux: Dave Bitner was a thoughtful and courageous leader. He will be missed. Please join Meike and I in praying for Wendy and his family.

12:21 p.m. – Rep. Will Weatherford: Dave Bitner was a great husband, leader, and friend and I will miss him dearly! We will be praying for Wendy and the family.

12:20 p.m. – Rep. Jeff Brandes: FL lost a great leader today in Chairman Bitner. My thoughts and prayers are with Wendy & his family

12:09 p.m. – Gary Fineout reports that Governor Rick Scott was informed earlier today of Bitner’s passing.

12:08 p.m. – Rep. Clay Ingram: My prayers are with the family of Chairman Dave Bitner. We are thankful for his service to our State and to our Party.

Dave Bitner’s family obituary:

David I. Bitner, 1948 – 2011

David Bitner, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and a former state lawmaker, died at his Monticello home on Thursday after his months-long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.  Mr. Bitner was a loving husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather and friend to many around the state of Florida.

Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, Bitner grew up on a farm and graduated from North Hagerstown High School.  Even late into his life, Bitner prided himself on keeping “farm hours” by reporting to work early and staying late.
Bitner relocated to Southwest Florida and served for many years as the General Manager of the Port Charlotte-based Charlotte Sun-Herald.

Over the course of a decade, Bitner transformed the Sun-Herald into one of the most successful newspapers in Southwest Florida.

“Dave came to work with the free weekly when we had only 4 employees,” said Derek Dunn-Rankin, Chairman of the Suncoast Media Group.  “He was the key player in building it into a significant daily newspaper.”

In 1990, Dave sold his interest in the newspaper and joined his wife, Wendy, in starting Sun Specialties, a provider of company promotional products and business gifts.  In 1992, Dave was elected by the people of District 71 to serve as State Representative in the Florida House of Representatives.

As a legislator, Dave earned a reputation as a hard-working, common sense conservative leader committed to enacting laws such as tort reform, stricter penalties for criminals and a reduction in taxes. A tireless defender of Republican policies, Bitner is credited with aiding in the Republican resurgence in the Florida House during the 1990s and passing policies to cut the size of Florida’s government, lower taxes, and reduce frivolous lawsuits. One of his key legislative accomplishments was his sponsorship of Florida’s “name change” law, ensuring the record of prisoners incarcerated under one name and released under another reflected their complete criminal record.

In Charlotte County, Bitner remained active as President of the Charlotte County Cultural Center, President of the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Charlotte County chapter of Big Brothers & Big Sisters and the YMCA.  He was also involved in local high school booster programs.

During his first two terms, Bitner served in the minority, but helped the Republican Party gain the majority in the Florida House his 3rd and 4th terms under Speakers Webster and Thrasher, then under Governor Jeb Bush.

“Dave was an extremely close personal friend and trusted professional colleague,” said former state representative Dudley Goodlette. “Florida has lost a true leader. Our thoughts and prayers are with Wendy and the Bitner family.”

Throughout his years of service, Bitner was honored by several statewide organizations. In 1994, Bitner was honored by the Florida Homebuilders Association as “Legislator of the Year” and “Legislator of the Year” by the Florida Economic Development Council in 1997.  He was also recognized by the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges as an “Outstanding Legislator” and by the University of Florida for his “Dedication, Leadership and Support of Higher Education.”  Other honors include a “Legislative Leadership Award” from the Florida Restaurant Association, a “Friend of the Family Award” by the Christian Coalition of Florida and the House Republican Champion of Workers’ Compensation Reform.

In 2000, Bitner was asked by then-Governor Jeb Bush to travel the state and campaign for George W. Bush for President.  Throughout the campaign, Dave traveled across Florida to knock on doors, attend rallies and make phone calls, playing a critical role as a liaison between the Bush Campaign and the 67 Republican Executive Committee members throughout Florida.

Following his tenure as a state representative, joined by his wife Wendy, Bitner permanently relocated to the Tallahassee area and founded government consulting firm Bitner & Associates.  While Bitner’s love for politics drove him to serve as a lawmaker, baseball was his second passion and while at Bitner & Associates, he represented Major League teams including his beloved Baltimore Orioles.  Bitner is credited with helping to keep several major league baseball teams in Florida for spring training and also helping to lure the Tampa Bay Rays to his former home of Port Charlotte for spring training in 2008.

Since leaving the statehouse, Bitner remained active in Republican Party politics as a Jefferson County precinct committeeman and a member of the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee.  Bitner and his wife walked door-to-door for many candidates across the state of Florida including candidates for the Florida House of Represenatives and Florida Senate.

In early 2011, Bitner was elected Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.  During his tenure, Chairman Bitner traveled the state extensively, meeting with local Republican clubs and helping to unify the party.  He also worked to honor Florida’s nearly 250,000 military veterans through the “Greatest Generation Tour” across Florida.

Even in the face of the challenges posed by ALS, Chairman Bitner worked tirelessly to fundraise, meet Republican and conservative leaders and improve organization within the party’s ranks around the state.

Bitner and his wife Wendy marked 20 years of marriage in 2010 and reside in Monticello.  Both are the founders of Jefferson Outreach for Youth (JOY) to help under privileged children in Jefferson County.  In his spare time, Bitner enjoyed woodworking, tending to the animals on his farm and discussing politics.

Dave is survived by his loving wife, Wendy M. Bitner of Monticello; a daughter, Jennifer Blackburn of North Port, FL; three sisters, Debbie Poff of Sarasota, FL, Darlene Muse of Winter Haven, FL and Dawn Lewis of Hagerstown, MD; a brother, Don Bitner of Tallahassee; mother-in-law, Sandie Checchia  of Port Charlotte and father-in-law, Damian (Lisa) Wojdula of Englewood, FL; brother-in-law, Steven Wojdula of Venice, FL; grandchildren, Kelly Plueger, Dylan Hixson, Amanda Blackburn & Bob Blackburn; and a great Grandson, Phoenix Plueger.

Celebration of Life services for Dave will be announced.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.