NEW PORT RICHEY — They envisioned a parade float decked in red, white and blue. A backdrop painted with their name and an elephant to illustrate their GOP theme.
But this week Pasco Republicans learned their application for a spot in the March 20 Chasco Fiesta street parade had been rejected by event organizers.
Bill Bunting, Pasco state committeeman, smelled "a political coverup," and he hurled a name at Chasco executive director Wendy Brenner:
"She's playing partisan politics with this," Bunting said.
"I'm a Republican, for Pete's sake!" Brenner said. (Indeed, county records show she is a registered Republican.)
Brenner, a former New Port Richey mayor, said this week that she rejected the float because it was "political."
Rules for this year's parade, which has a carnevale theme, say floats aren't permitted if they reflect a political campaign, social issues or targeted special interest groups.
Local Republicans say they were not going to push any particular candidate on their float.
Brenner said this wording in the application gave the parade committee pause: "State Party GOP agenda."
"What am I supposed to read into that?" she said. "I can't assume it's anything other than political."
Bunting, when he was told that Brenner is a registered Republican, was not fazed: "Then why does she act like a Democrat? I find this offensive to every Republican in Pasco County."
Lona O'Reilly, a Republican state committeewoman who had planned to help decorate the float along with her daughter, was equally perturbed.
"What's our country come to? This is insanity!" she said. "Maybe we need to appoint a czar for Chasco Fiesta to figure out why people's voices can't be heard."
Plenty of local elected officials take part in the Chasco parade, though organizers say their purpose is more as dignitaries than campaigners. This year's marshal is Kurt Browning, former Pasco elections supervisor and now secretary of state.
Bunting and O'Reilly, as GOP state committee members elected by the voters of their party, say they should qualify in that regard, as well.
"Bill and I are elected officials," O'Reilly said. "The (Republican voters) put us in those positions."
Brenner said she doesn't think that qualifies as an elected official. "He's elected by his party," she said of Bunting.
On Wednesday, Bunting got the official rejection notice in the mail, along with his $100 entry fee.
But don't expect to see him watching the parade go by. He said he has a political debate he's going to attend that day.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.