Saturday, June 23, 2018
Politics

GOP speaker conflict; pro volleyball in park; St. Pete council is Bradyesque

GOP speaker strife

Pinellas County's Republican Party is facing criticism from some of its own members for inviting a University of Central Florida academic to give an anti-Islam speech at its next meeting.

In its June newsletter, the group advertised a 45-minute speech called "The Islamic Threat to America," by Dr. Jonathan Matusitz, an associate professor. The speech is supposed to take place roughly an hour before the organization's executive committee meets and hears from Blaise Ingoglia, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

On Thursday, Chris Latvala — son of state Sen. Jack Latvala and a likely candidate for the District 67 House seat — took to Facebook to share his disappointment in the party.

"I am a born-again Christian saved by grace alone, through Christ alone, but a local county Republican meeting should not be an avenue to bash a religion that is practiced by many in Pinellas County, including fellow Republicans," he wrote. "As a party our focus should be trying to win the vote of every voter regardless of their religious beliefs."

Sen. Latvala would appear to share his son's views, writing: "Proud of you Chris!" on the younger Latvala's Facebook page.

On Friday, GOP chairman Michael Guju defended his speaker choice, saying the objections were "much ado about nothing." About six months ago, the party began hosting an educational forum an hour before its regular meetings to give people "who are not sanctioned by the party" a space to talk.

"I looked up the guy, I vetted him, and he has a point of view that perhaps someone may not appreciate. I understand that. That's education," he said. "The Republican Party is very broad."

It appears Matusitz has been making the rounds within Florida's tea party chapters. On May 13, he spoke before the Villages tea party and on May 30, according to Facebook, he addressed the East Side tea party in Orlando.

"The problem is not so much the average Muslim, as it is the ideology," he told the Village crowd last month, going on to say that the Koran is "a lot of hateful verses that urge the adherents to kill non-Muslims." Matusitz told the group that growing number of Muslims in Europe threatens to overwhelm European civilization.

"In just 22 years the number of Islamic immigrants has almost doubled. Can you see the magnitude of the problem?" he asked.

It's a rerun

Thursday's St. Petersburg City Council meeting seemed a lot like a Brady Bunch rerun.

We knew the plot, the characters and how it would end. Like that sneaky tarantula that tormented the Bradys in Hawaii.

The opening act started when Wengay Newton tried axing the red-light cameras. Steve Kornell helped by approving the motion.

The plot thickened. Will cameras survive?

The cameras, Newton said, extort money from drivers.

In the name of safety, Bill Dudley, a former teacher and driving instructor, talked about teaching 14,000 kids to drive since 1970. That's his favorite line in camera debates.

Jim Kennedy then praised traffic engineers and vowed to follow their advice. Leaning forward and clasping his hands, Mayor Bill Foster took the big-picture view. He talked about fewer crashes and safer streets.

Then the drama: roll call. The council voted 5-3 to keep the cameras in operation. Drivers will not get a reprieve from the $158 citations. The votes to kill the cameras came from Newton, Kornell and Leslie Curran.

At the start of the debate, Dudley even acknowledged the looming rerun: "It seems like we're discussing the same story over and over again."

Foster mesmerized

With the announcement Thursday that a pro beach volleyball tournament will be held at St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park in September, Mayor Foster boasted about the possible television exposure.

His excitement made him seem like a little boy with his first Tonka truck.

"Holy cow. Oh man," Foster said while touching the silver medal dangling from the neck of Olympian April Ross.

Event organizers spoke briefly about the tournament at a City Council meeting. Ross then presented a volleyball to Foster.

"This is my only friend, and I'll call him Wilson," Foster told the council in reference to Tom Hanks' movie Cast Away.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @markpuente on Twitter. Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @annamphillips on Twitter.

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