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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

GOP makes last ditch effort to remove tea party candidate



UPDATED: In a Leon County courtroom, the Republican Party of Florida made a last minute attempt to remove a tea Party candidate from the ballot in a Central Florida state legislative race. But time was an issue because the ballot gets certified at 5 p.m. Thursday and the circuit judge appeared skeptical about granting an injunction.

Rep. J.C. Planas, a termed-out Miami lawmaker, was hired by the party to argue the case on behalf of a voter in House District 34, Christopher Denion. (Rep. Chris Dorworth, a future House speaker, currently holds the seat.) Planas argued that John DeVries is a bogus tea party candidate and asked Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford to disqualify him for technical issues surrounding his paperwork and a loan from Florida Tea Party leader Fred O'Neal.

"What we have here is the RPOF verses the Tea Party of Florida," O'Neal said in his opening statement. "They are trying to take us off the ballot."

At the end of the day, the judge rejected the RPOF's efforts to get an injunction but Planas said he will push it to trial. He also said he will ask prosecutor Willie Meggs to file a criminal case against DeVries.

Planas said DeVries admitted on the stand writing a worthless check -- which if convicted would disqualify him. "We are going to expose the (Florida) Tea Party for what they are," he said.

The group, led by Orlando political consultant Doug Guetzloe, is under fire as a front group for Democrats. (And remember the name "Florida Tea Party" is also a matter of legal dispute.)

Even if Planas won the argument for an injunction -- and the judge was incredibly skeptical -- it was still likely DeVries name will appear on the ballot, given that the case is ongoing and a decision might not come at the end of the hearing. Not to mention, the Florida Tea Party, as a recognized political organization, can then nominate a replacement.

Planas said the case is a trial balloon, and if successful, will lead to more GOP efforts to remove Florida Tea Party candidates.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 10:26am]


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