March 18, 2013

Broward GOP chooses new leader

Conservative will head county party through the 2014 election season.

On the national stage, some Republicans say their party must ditch the social conservative label and loosen their opposition to gay marriage. But in Broward County Monday night, the local GOP elected one of the county’s best-known social conservatives to lead them through the 2014 elections when everything from the governor’s mansion to local offices will be in play.

Tom Truex, a former Davie mayor, was chosen to replace Rico Petrocelli, a former Plantation council member who quit the post in February with a vague explanation that he wasn’t getting along with the board. The chair position has been plagued by turnover — a handful of activists have served as chair since 2010.

Truex served on the Davie Town Council until he lost the mayor’s seat to former council member and Democrat Judy Paul in 2009. He lost a race for Broward GOP chairman by four votes in 2010.

In his speech to the Broward Republican Executive Committee, Truex emphasized he was “battle tested” and “experienced as a past elected official.”

He called for allowing the media to attend all party meetings.

“The perception of the Republican Party isn’t that great,” he said. “The way to improve the reputation of the Broward Republican Executive Committee isn’t to hide silly things we do, but to stop doing so many silly things.”

Truex was elected over interim chairwoman Christine Butler; Levi Williams, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who was selected by Gov. Rick Scott to run his campaign in Broward; and activists Bob Sutton and Jim Gleason. Butler, an attorney also from Davie, will remain the vice chairwoman.

Truex is a former chairman of Hope Pregnancy Centers — an organization that discourages abortions. In 2003, Truex refused to participate in a United Way fundraiser after it cut funding to the Boy Scouts due to a ban on gay members and because it provided funding to Planned Parenthood.

The internal warfare comes after an election season when party activists saw the state go to Barack Obama and lost their best-known local politician: Sheriff Al Lamberti was ousted by Democrat Scott Israel. State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale lost to fellow legislator Maria Sachs (D-Boca Raton) in a newly drawn district that favored Democrats. Republicans have had some success in local offices including Broward School Board members Donna Korn and Katie Leach.

The chair position is unpaid and comes with plenty of grief from feuding activists who disagree on primary candidates and rules for running the group. But it also comes with benefits: the chairmanship can be a visible spokesperson for the county GOP and rub shoulders with other notable Republicans in the state. (The gig has proven more high-profile on the other side because Broward Democrats tend to draw bigger names such as Barack Obama and the Clintons to visit the county.)

Some activists say that partisan county groups aren’t the main driver behind an election victory or loss because candidates form their own operations whether for president or city commission. But party activists can recruit local candidates, and help with phone banking and door knocking.

The 260,000 registered Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats by more than two to one in Broward. However, Broward Republicans are the second biggest county in sheer number of GOP voters following Miami-Dade so statewide candidates will court their votes next year.

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