Friday, June 22, 2018
Politics

GOP official quits after racist Facebook post and 'death panel' uproar

Bill Akins said he resigned Tuesday night as secretary of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee because he spoke out of turn during a Saturday congressional town hall meeting by insisting the Affordable Care Act has "death panels."

"According to the loyalty oath I signed with REC, I'm not supposed to be making any statements, even if I want to do so as a private citizen, before running it past the REC and the chairman of the Republican Party," Akins said Wednesday morning.

But it wasn't his comments about Obamacare that drew national scorn on Akins. He became the subject of widespread ridicule only after the Washington Post revealed his Facebook posts contained racist and fake news stories and memes.

Pasco Republican Party chairman Randy Evans said no one with the GOP asked him to resign, but he said Wednesday it was those Facebook posts that likely contributed to his departure.

"Yes, I believe so," Evans said. "I think he came to the conclusion himself."

''Absolutely — that's what I told him — that Facebook thing," Committeeman Bill Bunting said.

Yet while Akins provided a detailed explanation of why he made his comments about death panels during a Saturday town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, he made no mention of the offending Facebook posts.

Indeed, Akins remained defiant as he explained the reasoning behind his abrupt resignation from the unpaid position.

"If liberals want to say, 'Ha ha, we got him to resign,' they did not. I resigned so I have the freedom to state what I want to state as a private citizen, and I don't want to be restricted by the (party's) loyalty oath," said Akins, 63.

Akins, who said he joined the executive committee about six years ago, became secretary in December and had been scheduled to serve through the 2018 election.

The uproar over Akins prompted Evans to issue a statement apologizing to Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, "for any harm or discredit caused by statements" from Akins.

Akins said he disagreed with Evans' statement.

"I don't feel I embarrassed Congressman Bilirakis. I totally disagree with that," Akins said.

The Republican Party loyalty oath prohibits committee members from, among other things, supporting non-Republican candidates in partisan elections. It makes no specific mention of a gag rule, but both Evans and Pasco Republican state Committeeman Bill Bunting said party rules designate the chairman, state committeeman and state committeewoman as the only people authorized to speak on the party's behalf.

"They don't make comments representing the party. It's standard procedure in all 67 counties," Bunting said.

Akins emailed a statement to the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday morning explaining his comments about death panels, but nothing about those Facebook posts.

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