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GOP donors call for removal of Florida party leader

TALLAHASSEE — A dozen prominent political donors have added their names to the growing list of those calling for the resignation of embattled state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer.

Included in that list are two prominent Tampa Bay political donors — former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Mel Sembler and Richard Beard, a past chairman of the University of South Florida's governing board. Both signed the letter delivered this week arguing that Greer's spot at the top of the party hurts fundraising and morale among the GOP faithful.

"The best interests of the party would be for Mr. Greer to resign now," reads the letter, signed by 12 top party donors. "Failing this, he should be removed as quickly as possible."

Party leaders will meet Jan. 8 and 9 in Orlando, and Greer's future as chairman should be a main topic of conversation. Activists say they will try to remove him as chairman at the meeting. Greer said party rules do not allow them to do so.

Despite the calls for him to step down, Greer remains defiant. From party spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta: "The chairman fully intends to serve the remainder of his elected term. He looks forward to a positive discussion with the state committee during the annual meeting next weekend."

A message left Wednesday on Greer's cell phone was not returned.

Sembler's name at the bottom of the letter is perhaps the most surprising. The St. Petersburg developer is a longtime backer of Gov. Charlie Crist, and his son, Brent, is close friends with the governor. Crist handpicked Greer as chairman and continues to support him.

The donors wrote that it is agonizing to publicly call for Greer's resignation.

"But it would not have come to this had Jim Greer heeded warning calls and implemented a strategic plan of action for our Republican candidates as a competent state chairman should and would," the group wrote. "We must set our internal house in order straight away to achieve victory in November."

Some activists complain Greer is taking sides in major statewide primaries such as the U.S. Senate race pitting Crist against former House Speaker Marco Rubio. Greer has made no bones about his personal preference for Crist, but said the party is officially neutral.

In a letter to the party on Dec. 21, Greer called it treason that some party members are "airing dirty laundry" in an effort to oust him.

"What I do not enjoy is the support of one of the Republican primary campaigns for the United States Senate," he wrote, in an apparent reference to the Rubio campaign. "While this is unfortunate, I will not let the efforts of one campaign deter me from the mission I accepted in February 2009."

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or llogan@sptimes.com.

GOP donors call for removal of Florida party leader 12/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 8:36pm]
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