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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

RPOF chairman Dave Bitner has died



dave-bitner.jpgFrom Republican Party of Florida 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.

Bitner had just announced a week ago that he was stepping down. Story here. His family obit below.

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.

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 to sign the memory book and extend condolences to the family. Arrangements by Roberson Funeral Home & Crematory Port Charlotte Chapel.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 2:01pm]


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