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Florida GOP chair: Pinellas leader who joked about cancer 'has become a distraction'

Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry isn't calling for the resignation of a Pinellas GOP leader who recently joked about a fellow Republican's cancer, but he sounded plenty disgusted in talking to Buzz about it this weekend.

Pinellas state committeeman Dan Tucker, an activist with the libertarian wing of the GOP, was elected last year. His most notable act since then was to respond to news that Republican Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni had endorsed Democrat Darden Rice for a St. Petersburg City Council seat by commenting on Facebook: "Doesn't he have cancer of the brain … hmmm?"

Morroni has battled cancer on and off for years.

As Tucker refused calls by local party leaders to resign, Curry said he phoned Tucker.

"I told him that I thought that his comments were reprehensible . . . and that I think he's become a distraction to the ability of the local party to do its job," said Curry, noting that the party has a formal grievance process for removing an officer.

Two crucial races

The next two significant battles between the state Republican and Democratic parties are being fought in Tampa Bay: An Oct. 15 special election to replace former state Rep. Mike Fasano in a West Pasco district and the officially nonpartisan St. Petersburg mayoral race.

Curry said the state party is aggressively working in both races.

"We're going to go in there and work our butts off to win that race," he said of the House District 36 contest between Republican Bill Gunter and Democrat Amanda Murphy.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, a Republican, has criticized challenger Rick Kriseman for bringing partisanship into the race by relying on the state Democratic Party to help fund his campaign, but the state GOP is helping Foster.

"We're going in there to do what we can to keep that seat," Curry said. "We're helping. We're engaged."

Rhetoric off the menu

Curry's comments came during a surprisingly low-key 2013 Statesman's Dinner Friday night, which attracted an estimated 700 people to Disney's Contemporary Resort. The lack of red-meat rhetoric was striking, with no mention of the budget showdown in Washington and barely a mention of President Barack Obama or Obamacare.

Curry declined to take a position on the maneuvering in Washington and the government shutdown, which has divided Republican leaders and activists.

"We have diverse voices on the government shutdown, and it's my job as chairman of the party to keep all these voices in the same tent and focus on the common goal — and our biggest thing in Florida are the 2014 elections."

While some party officials fretted quietly that Republicans in Congress are damaging the GOP brand, others want tea party leaders in Washington to keep up the fight.

A caucus of state committee members passed a resolution asking the party to congratulate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and urge congressional Republicans to stand their ground and refuse to fund the Affordable Care Act.

"This is not a time for us to back down up in D.C.," declared Bay County state committeeman Jonathan Hayes, who is also chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City. "We must win this battle. This shutdown is President Obama's fault. This shutdown is Harry Reid's fault and the American people have got to hear it."

Gov. Rick Scott skipped the dinner to monitor Tropical Storm Karen from Tallahassee but spoke to the gathering through a live video feed, touting Florida's falling unemployment rate. It didn't help his case though, that former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao noted that much of the reason for the unemployment rate dropping across the country is because of people giving up looking for work and dropping out of the workforce.

Curry said the Florida Democratic Party is "literally a laughing stock," noting that state House Democrats recently ousted their incoming leader, Darryl Rouson, that the party touted a CFO candidate who dropped out within days, and that party leaders have snubbed their only announced gubernatorial candidate, Nan Rich.

"They are on the verge of an arranged marriage with someone that has proven that he is unfit to govern: Charlie Crist," said Curry.

Rouson to speak

State Rep. Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, discusses his recent troubles on Political Connections on Bay News 9 today at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Pot seems popular

We're still not convinced the folks trying to put a measure on the ballot to legalize marijuana for medical use in Florida will gather enough signatures in time, but a new, automated poll by Public Policy Polling (margin of error 4.1 percent), found 62 percent of voters supporting it and only 27 percent saying they would vote against it. Nearly three in four independents support it, the poll found, as do 64 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans.

Winner of the week

Marco Rubio. He hasn't offered an alternative plan, and he seemed as caught off-guard as most Florida pols by the prospect of dramatic flood insurance increases as a result of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. But at least the Republican senator can brag about voting against the bill ­— not necessarily because of any concerns about flood insurance but because it was tucked into the sort of sweeping transportation spending bill Rubio consistently opposes.

Loser of the week

Bill Gunter. The race to succeed Republican Mike Fasano in the state House seems too close for confidence on either side, but in a West Pasco district that adored Fasano's independent streak, Amanda Murphy had a big week. Fasano, after saying he would not endorse in the race, announced that he had voted early for Murphy rather than Gunter. And another popular figure there, Charlie Crist, campaigned for Murphy.

Florida GOP chair: Pinellas leader who joked about cancer 'has become a distraction' 10/06/13 [Last modified: Sunday, October 6, 2013 12:42am]
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