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Party's loyalists quarrel at meeting

After several relatively peaceful years, Hernando's Republicans have begun to do in this election year what activists in local parties always seem to do eventually _ fight among themselves.

At Thursday's meeting of the county Republican Executive Committee, former Sheriff Tom Mylander blasted members for reporting to Gov. Jeb Bush's campaign that he had attended a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, a Democrat from Dunnellon.

Mylander, who had worked for the Bush campaign, said he resigned from the effort because he didn't want his differences with the REC to reflect poorly on the campaign.

"It's a shame and it's a mess," Mylander said. "It gets down to petty politics and it hurts everybody."

After the same meeting, REC member Anthony Palmieri quit the organization because it adopted a policy of endorsing one Republican over another in primary campaigns.

The party should allow voters to decide, Palmieri _ also a member of the county Planning and Zoning Commission _ wrote in his resignation letter:

"To do otherwise is, in my opinion, contrary to our democratic system of election and takes away a privilege from the registered voters."

Though the two issues are unrelated, Mylander said they are both a result of the same tendency.

"It's another example of (the REC) trying to tell everyone else in the party what to do," said Mylander, who is not an REC member.

"Unless you're in with the REC, they won't support you."

Several REC members said that Mylander incorrectly accused a party member of reporting him to the Bush campaign.

"We have no idea who called," said longtime Republican activist Mary Ann Hogan.

Even Mary Lou Wright, who Mylander said he suspected of placing the call, said she did not know who had. Mylander appeared at the fundraiser for Thurman in June. Thurman, who has held the District 5 seat for 10 years, is running against state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville.

"I don't know who did it, but we all wish we did," Wright said.

"This has been buzz, buzz, buzz throughout the Republican Party. We were angry about it and I thought it was a deserved anger."

Wright said she thought Mylander was being manipulated by Thurman.

"If she can rope in a couple of Republican lambs, she will," Wright said. She also said the damage is all the greater because of Mylander's stature and the significance of the race.

"This isn't Mosquito Control, this is U.S. Congress," Wright said.

Mylander said he has the same right as any citizen to support Democrats he thinks can do the job. Thurman is a longtime friend, with whom he has worked successfully in the past. He has, meanwhile, had several differences with Brown-Waite. For example, he criticized her for announcing plans to run for supervisor of elections in 2000 and then, after several months, returning to the Senate race.

In calling him a disloyal Republican, he said, REC members are discounting his years of service as an elected official from the party.

"I did as much for this party in Hernando County as anyone," he said.

"I think the majority of voters have enough common sense to pick out who they think is best qualified," he said.

Mary Ann Hogan said the REC has considered changing its policy on supporting primary candidates for several years. Republican and Democratic executive committees have had the same stated policy of remaining neutral in their own primaries.

Many REC members though, worked against former state Rep. Jeff Stabins, with whom they openly feuded through most of the 1990s. Democrats fought bitterly after the election of current DEC Chairman Dom Cabriele in December 2000.

It is more and more common for local Republican organizations to endorse candidates across the state, Hogan said.

But before an endorsement can be made, the county's REC must apply for permission from the state and at least 60 percent of the members present must support the favored candidate, said Towson Fraser, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida.

One factor that may have discouraged them from doing so in the past has disappeared in recent years, Fraser said. State law requires that parties issuing endorsements forfeit their share of filing fees. But this law has not been enforced since 1995, when the Florida Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, Fraser said.

Hogan said the party changed the policy primarily to weed out embarrassing candidates.

"We have no control over who puts their name on the ballot," she said, "and sometimes we don't think they are true Republicans and we don't think they would be qualified to do the job they are seeking."

But the true purpose of the party is to support all Republicans, Palmieri said.

"It's a principle I believe in," Palmieri said. "I feel very strongly, and this is why I decided to resign."