Saturday, February 24, 2018
Politics

RNC panel votes to punish Florida GOP for early primary

Second-class hotel rooms. A poor view on the Republican National Convention floor in Tampa. A loss of VIP passes.

Florida Republicans had to swallow these penalties Wednesday when the Republican National Committee's rules panel approved the punishments because the state bucked the party by holding an early primary on Jan. 31.

Florida already lost half of its 100 delegates — the people who technically cast votes for the party nominee at the convention.

Adding insult to the injury: The convention will be held in Tampa this August, at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"We're going to have lousy floor space and lose a little prestige. And for what?" said Tony DiMatteo, Pinellas County Republican state committeeman.

He said that having less-choice hotel rooms is a major inconvenience. The convention will be a high-security affair, so getting around will be difficult and good rooms near the convention site are pretty much a must.

"It affects everybody," he said. "Even if you live in Tampa Bay, you have to stay at the hotel. When they meet for events, it's in secure facilities."

DiMatteo said other rank-and-file Republicans are upset as well, exposing an on-again, off-again rift between grass-roots Republicans and the elected officials who made the primary early.

State House Republican leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera said Republicans "anticipated" some of the penalties. But making the primary early made Florida count. And so it was worth the risk.

"Florida will help decide the nominee," Lopez-Cantera said. "The candidates are coming here to spend time and resources they otherwise wouldn't."

Not all of them are, though. Ron Paul is skipping the state because of its expense and the loss of delegates. Still, Mitt Romney is advertising across the state and he'll be in Palm Beach today. Newt Gingrich soon will be in Miami and Orlando.

The party's nominee can help reverse some of the penalties approved by the RNC rules committee. A full RNC vote is Friday.

Polk County Republican Paul Senft, who sits on the RNC's rules committee, voted to penalize the state along with everyone else. But he said he did it so that he could have "standing" to bring the measure up in the future. If he voted "no" and lost, he wouldn't have the right to have the matter reconsidered.

Senft said the resolution could have been worse. He said the language in the resolution isn't clear, either, because it calls for Florida to have "reduced priority" for hotel rooms and seating. He said the phrase isn't defined. So it will be up to another committee and RNC Chair Reince Priebus how to define and enforce the penalty.

"There's some wiggle room," Senft said. But, he said, Florida lost face at the RNC: "We'll have to earn back some credibility before we get another convention."

Priebus tried to quell concerns of Florida Republicans on Wednesday. He said there will be "plenty of opportunity to have a great time" at the convention.

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