The Republican Party of Florida has a new chairman.
Party activists on Saturday rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked chairman and elected state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia to lead the party.
Ingoglia, 44, of Spring Hill, defeated Leslie Dougher, who took over the party eight months ago with Scott’s endorsement. Ingoglia previously served as the state party’s vice chairman and last year was elected to the state House. He was elected on a second ballot after none of the four candidates for chairman received a majority of votes on the first ballot.
Speaking with reporters after the vote, Ingoglia effusively praised Scott and played down the significance of winning the vote despite Scott’s support for Dougher, who also had the backing of GOP legislative and party leaders.
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“This race was about the vision and the future of the party and the things that we wanted to do to make sure that we win 2016,” Ingoglia, said
Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party in Sarasota County, was elected vice chairman of the statewide party.
In a meeting after Ingoglia’s election, RPOF Executive Director Juston Johnson told party officials that he was stepping down.
Scott, who left the Rosen Plaza Hotel shortly after Dougher’s defeat, issued a terse statement about the vote.
“Leslie did a great job as Chairwoman,” Scott’s statement read. “We had a successful election and that’s why I voted for her. The delegates made another choice which is their prerogative.”
Dougher’s loss came despite leading the party to sweeping victories in November. The GOP reclaimed a two-thirds majority in the state House, held onto a sizable edge in the state Senate and saw Scott and all three Cabinet officers re-elected. Dougher was trying to win a two-year term. She took over the party in May, when then-chairman Lenny Curry left to run for mayor of Jacksonville.
“I may have jumped on the proverbial speeding freight train in May, but I have no intentions of slowing down,” Dougher said in her speech to committee members, shortly before they voted to derail her.
Dougher had the endorsement of many members of the GOP establishment, including Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando; House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island; five former chairs of the party; and Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee.
Dougher’s loss capped off a particularly difficult week for Scott, who has faced questions in a separate controversy over the departure of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. It also magnified questions about how quickly Scott’s influence might wane in his second term.
Some Republicans brushed off the idea that the vote reflected on Scott, who ran as an outsider four years ago.
“The governor just won a great election, a historic election, a huge election,” said Curry, who also backed Dougher. “Look, we’re strong as a party. This body, this membership spoke today, and Blaise ran a great campaign.”
Dougher also dismissed the speculation.
“I just think it’s the grassroots making a choice of who they want to lead for 2016, and that’s good,” she said. “We’re all united behind it, and we’re going to go in in 2016 and put a Republican president in office.”
But when asked whether Scott might take a less active role in fundraising for the party given the vote, Dougher didn’t answer directly.
“I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” she said.
Ingoglia expressed no doubts about being able to work with Scott on fundraising and other party issues.
“The governor cares deeply about the direction of this nation and the party,” he said.
Ingoglia also said he wouldn’t try to use his chairmanship as leverage to help his legislative priorities.
“There is a firewall between what we do legislatively and what we do with the party,” he said.
Born in Queens N.Y., Ingoglia is a home builder and former tournament poker player, whose Hartland Homes prospered during the real estate boom partly by selling to out-of-town speculators.
Ingoglia’s public life began in 2007, when he drew praise and criticism for his “Government Gone Wild” seminars that chronicled what he described as wasteful spending by the county.
Ingoglia raised his profile the following year by spending his own money to help unseat Democrats Diane Rowden and Chris Kingsley from the County Commission. He joined the Hernando REC in early 2009 and won the chairman’s job in a special election later that year. He was re-elected in 2010 and again in January.
As he ran the local party, Ingoglia expanded the scope of the “Government Gone Wild” seminars to target the federal government.
In 2011, he was elected as interim vice chairman of the state party. He was re-elected to the post in January.
In November, he was elected to the state House of Representatives.
The Tampa Bay Times, Florida News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.