As the new leader of the Hillsborough County GOP, what are your priorities?
To regroup and prepare us for the 2010 midterm elections. To reach out to coalitions that we want to work on: black Americans, Hispanics, women. This is not our grandmother's party anymore. We need to do that while still holding on to our Republican values.
Your predecessor, David Storck, was criticized before the election for passing along an e-mail that some said stoked racial tensions. Do you think minorities feel welcome in the Hillsborough County Republican Party today?
That e-mail was blown out of proportion. David apologized for it, and it's a dead issue. The idea that the Republicans are not inclusive is just not true. But we need to do a better job of getting rid of this perception. We need to continue to reach out to Hispanic communities and women. I recently set up meetings with students at the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa and a group of black Americans. But we have minorities and minority groups in the party. This is the stuff that people don't know.
Opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage have been staples of Republican campaigns. While this mobilizes the base, does it serve as an obstacle in appealing to a bigger audience?
I really want to reserve my answer on that for right now. I need to think about that. I believe in the right to life; I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman, but I'm not ruling out other factors. That's my personal view. We have a gay Republican club, the Log Cabin Republicans, and they support us. As the new chairman, I'm going to reach out to those factions.
How much of a role do power brokers such as Al Austin, Don Phillips and Sam Rashid play in setting party policy and picking candidates?
They are very important to the Republican Party. Do we look to them for counsel? Yes, at times we do. But they do not select the candidates of the Republican Party.
Will you seek their advice or approval in vetting candidates?
Absolutely. They are our major supporters. But they advise the candidates, not the party.
What's your view on plans by David Caton, head of the Florida Family Association, to collect signatures for a charter amendment in Hillsborough County that would outlaw spending tax dollars on same-sex benefits?
I'm not going to comment.
For at least 10 years, the Republicans have controlled the governor's office, Legislature and most local offices in Hillsborough. Many economists say that, as the nation finds itself in a recession, Florida is in worse shape than other states. How do you convince voters that Republicans aren't to blame for the state's current economic plight?
The Republicans have to go back to the basics. We have to be true to our basic principles, which is less government. Have we gotten away from that? Yes, I think so. But it takes all of us to improve the economy, not just the Republicans. The problem that Florida faces is also confronting the rest of the country, and for the last two years, we've had a Democratic Congress. We need to work together to bring the economy back to where it should be.
What should the state do, if anything, about its tax structure? Should the state introduce an income tax to make the system more balanced?
I'm not versed enough to answer that question.
The Republicans have long opposed regulation based on a premise that the marketplace can police itself better than government. Do you believe more regulation is necessary to police certain industries, such as banking and mortgage brokers?
No. You're getting into more government. That's not the answer.
What is the answer?
That's what we're all exploring right now. I don't think anybody has the answer right now. If we did, we wouldn't be where we are right now. I'm still a believer in the free market.
What are your thoughts on a county mayor?
That's an issue I'm going to study very carefully. In our party, we have strong opinions on both sides. I do not have an opinion on it at all.
A referendum on transit is expected to be on the 2010 ballot. As gas prices continue to plummet, do you feel rail is still necessary in Hillsborough?
It's a lifestyle choice; it's not just gas prices. I think we need to come up with more public transit. Anything we can do to save more energy in the future I think is going to be very important.
What do you think of former Gov. Jeb Bush as a candidate for the U.S. Senate? Would he get your support?
I think he'd be fantastic. But I think there would be a lot of great candidates. We have a lot of strong Republicans who might run for that position, and for me to make a decision right now on that is impossible. I'm sure it's going to be an exciting campaign.