Monday, June 18, 2018
Politics

Florida's GOP delegates: Wesley Chapel welcomes you

National Republicans voted recently to give Florida's delegation to the Republican National Convention a "reduced priority" for hotel rooms. My first thought: "Welcome to Wesley Chapel!"

Pasco's hotels aren't second-rate, of course. They're simply a longer haul from downtown Tampa compared to a room in, say, West Shore.

Just imagine: A Miami delegate expecting a glitzy downtown room might instead get a great view of the newly widened State Road 54. Hey, it could be worse. At least construction crews won't be there during the Aug. 27-30 convention.

Who's to blame? Legislative leaders. The hotel snub — along with poor seats on the convention floor and a loss of guest passes — are penalties for Florida bucking the national party by holding an early presidential primary, which is Tuesday. The state also lost half its 100 delegates to the convention.

Quick time out. Given the struggling economy, I get that talk of hotel snubs for party high-rollers is a little tone deaf. I hear you, 99 percenters.

But attendees are going to drop some serious coin in Tampa Bay come August. The crush of people and heightened security means people will have a tough time getting around that week. I get that a grass roots Florida volunteer would feel hosed with an inconvenient hotel room. Florida is hosting the party, after all.

Anyhow, it's still too early to know where Florida's delegation will end up — though we do know there's a small chance it will be in our fair county.

For one thing, the new penalties are vague and open to some interpretation. There's a lot of gray area in a phrase like "reduced priority."

Also, it appears only a few Pasco hotels are under contract to provide rooms for official guests like delegates and media members. Convention organizers would not release names of hotels, and say they do not have "north Tampa" hotels sorted by county.

The RNC has a contract for nearly all of Saddlebrook Resort's 540 rooms, according to general manager Greg Riehle. Same story for about half of the 100-room Residence Inn on the Suncoast Parkway. Sales manager Mike Viola said the remainder is booked by people who aren't official guests of the convention.

Overall, the convention has booked 15,000 rooms at 100 hotels within a 35 minute drive of downtown Tampa. Other hotels likely will get some business from attendees, too.

"If they can't find rooms in Tampa, they will filter out," Viola said.

Case in point: the Hampton Inn in Wesley Chapel, which is right off Interstate 75 just across the county line. It is not under contract with the RNC but is booked solid that week with a separate group.

Convention spokesman James Davis said delegate hotel assignments won't be finalized until late spring as officials sort through individual requests from states. For example, California's delegation will be huge, requiring specific arrangements to avoid splitting that group among several hotels.

"Then we put together the jigsaw puzzle to accommodate those requests," Davis said.

So, Florida's delegates could be stuck in one of about 15 hotels in Brandon. They might have to — gasp! — cross a bridge from one of 30 Pinellas hotels.

Or, they might enjoy the swank Saddlebrook rooms, complete with a trip on Pasco's shiny new SR 54.

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