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Gov. Charlie Crist stands by embattled Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer

At the moment, Gov. Charlie Crist needs another headache like he needs a hole in the head.

But he has one — and his name is Jim Greer.

Loyal to a fault, Crist continues to stand by Greer, a teetering presence at the top of the Republican Party of Florida.

Greer is under siege by dozens of party activists who allege all manner of bad conduct: meddling in primaries, lavish spending, excessive travel and stonewalling repeated requests to lay bare the party's financial condition.

"I don't know if Mr. Greer is guilty of all he has been charged with. I do know his defense is terrible," said Rick Hartley, the Republican state committeeman in Duval County. "He is not a great communicator."

Hartley says Greer's problems are compounded by his image as a cigar-smoking, jet-setting party boss: "It feeds into the generally accepted, backroom, fat cat kind of mentality that people see the Republican Party as."

On Friday, Greer said his tormentors are using innuendo and half-truths to destroy him. He insists that the party is on solid financial footing, and he has no plans to resign.

Greer says his critics have larger goals: to steer the party in a more conservative direction and to prevent Crist, Greer's mentor, from becoming Florida's next U.S. senator.

"People have a specific political agenda — to destroy me, destroy the governor and destroy the party," Greer said.

Through the years, a public flogging of a political party leader has traditionally been the province of Democrats, not Republicans.

Democrats made life miserable for former state chairmen such as Simon Ferro, Mitch Ceasar and Scott Maddox.

Republicans usually have displayed more finesse and discipline; when a party leader was taken to the woodshed, it happened behind closed doors.

But the Greer crisis is playing out hour after hour, day after day on political and media blogs, revealing the party as a house divided.

What bothers some party activists the most is the rank unseemliness of it all, from still unexplained American Express charges to Greer's room service bills.

"If he (Greer) likes strip clubs, that's between him and his preacher," Hartley said.

Greer called that "an extremely offensive statement" and another example of attack by innuendo.

"I'm happily married with four kids," Greer said.

Anti-Greer forces are circulating a petition seeking to oust Greer from power at a meeting next month, but it's not clear that party rules allow such a step.

What Greer's critics could do is adopt motions cutting his salary and curtailing his spending power — steps that would make Greer's life as chairman miserable.

Greer finds it hard to fathom how he could be mired so deeply in controversy less than a year after winning re-election as party chairman with 77 percent of the vote.

The GOP boss continues to enjoy Crist's unqualified support — even as the governor battles rising unemployment, his own lagging poll numbers and the state's shaky finances.

Crist stood by his man during a meeting Friday with the Miami Herald editorial board. "I think he's doing a good job. He works like crazy," Crist said.

Said Greer: "The governor has told me I'm not to consider resigning."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Gov. Charlie Crist stands by embattled Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer 12/18/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2009 10:17pm]
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