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Change in leadership a good sign for Pasco County GOP

The Pasco Republican Executive Committee will get an opportunity for a more inclusive party and more thoughtful leadership when it picks a new chairman next week.

Bill Bunting — known for his tireless work ethic, limited platform (pro-gun rights, anti-taxes) and, most notably, a brass-knuckles style of politicking that once forced him to leave the party for two years — is stepping down after six years as chairman. Republicans elected Bunting to the state committee in August and he also wants to remain as the local party's chief fundraiser.

Taking his place is expected to be Randy Maggard of east Pasco. He is a gubernatorial appointee to the Coastal Rivers Basin Board and his family owns Sonny's Discount Appliances in Dade City. Maggard's political resume includes heading the Reagan Republican Club and trying unsuccessfully to be the party's appointed nominee for the state House of Representatives seat vacated by Ken Littlefield and won by Will Weatherford in 2006.

Separate interviews with Maggard and Bunting previewed the contrasting leadership styles. Maggard didn't want to talk about plans for the executive committee because he isn't chairman yet, but promised to lay out a 180-day agenda afterward.

Bunting, meanwhile, predicted anybody challenging Maggard for the chairmanship during the GOP's Dec. 18 election would be ostracized by the party for wasting everybody's time. So much for Democracy.

In other words, the presumed incoming chairman wants to work with people at an appropriate time while the retiring chair continues to intimidate and discourage debate among the ranks.

The change will be refreshing and hopefully lead to more expansive public policy discussions beyond Reaganomics and the Second Amendment. The Bunting-led executive committee, for instance, opposed the 2004 Penny for Pasco sales tax without knowing it would include a property tax decrease. Leadership goes beyond knee jerks.

Maggard acknowledged one of his discussion items will be the party's role in nonpartisan elections. It would be a wise conversation to have.

In recent elections the Pasco Republican Party doled out contributions to, among others, candidates running for Port Richey City Council, the Pasco School Board and even the Mosquito Control District Board. Its pre-Bunting involvement with laundering contributions for the 2002 Circuit judge race involving John Renke III brought a state elections law violation and $3,000 fine.

And the recent intraparty challenges to Bunting's state and local committee posts had their origins in the 2006 campaign when two-term incumbent Steve Simon lost his County Commission seat the first time he faced voters after switching to the Republican Party. The party gave no financial help to Simon, but contributed $5,000 to Cathi Compton's unsuccessful run for School Board. It brought open criticism from state Sen. Mike Fasano, Sheriff Bob White and Commissioner Ted Schrader of what they considered to be Bunting's misplaced priorities.

Indeed. The donations would make more sense if the party was attempting to build a farm team via municipal and other nonpartisan offices. But, the only recent winners of countywide offices to emerge from municipal governing ranks have been Democrats. The Compton support was tied to Bunting's personal animosity toward her opponent, fellow Republican Allen Altman, who championed the Penny for Pasco sales tax for new schools, roads and other public needs.

Many of the Republicans in local elected office tolerate Bunting, but keep their distance, believing his definition of a good Republican begins and ends with their check-writing abilities to the party.

We suspect they are eager to swap the arm's length for an open embrace with a new chairman.

Change in leadership a good sign for Pasco County GOP 12/10/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 4:24pm]
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