Flagler County’s Republicans are angry at each other.
Late Wednesday afternoon, a group of Republicans who’d been rejected from the Flagler County Republican Executive Committee gathered in the county courthouse parking lot and waited. Their attorney, William Bosch, eventually showed up—and filed suit in Flagler County Circuit Court against Nancy Prizer and the executive committee she chairs. The suit disputes Prizer’s credentials as chairman and claims she heavy-handedly and illegally screens new members to the committee. Local Republicans at the receiving end of those tactics complained to the state Republican Party, to no avail. So Glenn and Deborah Laury, two Republicans Prizer’s vetting committee rejected, filed a class-action suit seeking Prizer’s removal as chairman of the executive committee—and the admission of 20 or so individuals denied membership in the committee. (See the full list of complainants at the bottom of the article.)
Internecine warfare between party members and would-be members is nothing new: political party structures by nature generate some friction between various wings. The difference in this case is an ideological battle that has created a rift within and across Republican circles, a consequence of the party’s own identity crisis since the emergence of the more aggressive, less compromising tea party forces, whose insurgencies have upset traditional Republican party structures across the country. In short, traditional Republicans are at war with tea party Republicans.
Republicans’ battles in Flagler are merely the latest ripples. But the rifts can have spill-over consequences on elections, including—and especially—local elections, since the official Republican Party controls pots of money and endorsements that are doled out to candidates.
The gathering in the parking lot included Bob Hamby, president of the Flagler chapter of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies of Florida (an exclusively Florida-based group of Republicans who share most of the political DNA of tea party), Ray Stevens, one of the candidates for sheriff, Trey Corbett, one of the candidates for supervisor of elections, Charlie Ericksen, one of the candidates for county commission, Linda and Greg Hansen and John Ruffalo.
Prizer, reached at her home, did not return calls for comment.
The heart of the lawsuit makes two contentions. First, that Prizer and her associates are illegally vetting candidates to the Republican Executive Committee. Some vetting is allowed. But according to state law and party rules, the vetting may not go beyond asking whether the prospective member is properly registered (a candidate must be a registered Republican for at least one year) and a resident of the particular precinct he or she wants to represent. No subjective criteria are allowed.
Prizer, according to some of those who were interviewed by her vetting committee, were asked about their work history, their education and their voting history. Voting for a Democrat, or having been a Democrat in the past, for example, would be a strike against that candidate (which would have kept Ronald Reagan from being a member of the executive committee, since he, too, was once a Democrat).
Second, that on Oct. 12, when several prospective new members were to be admitted to the executive committee, Prizer and her vice chairman, Pat Sullivan, attempted to thwart the induction by leaving the meeting before that business could be conducted. Linda Obsorne and Frank Meeker (the Palm Coast City Council member) also walked out.
At that meeting, Bill McGuire, a member of the committee (and another Palm Coast City Council member) moved to induct Glenn and Debbie Laury. There was quite a bit of noise. Sullivan was still chairing the meeting at that point, but walked out, returned, then, according to meeting minutes, “launched an attack on the Tea Party that included personal invectives against the Laurys and the Tea Party movement in Flagler County.” Sullivan then left for good, along with Meeker, and Debbie Baril, the committee secretary, took up the gavel. The Laurys were inducted. The Gail Wadsworth, the clerk of court and president of the Flagler County Republican Club, moved to accept seven additional members who’d been previously barred—Nick Bereda, Hamby, Linda Hansen, Joe Kubasky and Ruffalo. That motion passed unanimously. So was a third motion to accept 29 other members who’d been previously barred.
On Oct. 28, Baril sent a letter to Prizer, by certified mail, to inform her that she would be removed from office at the Nov. 9 meeting. “It is with great sadness that two-thirds of the members in good standing are forced to rtake this action because of the violations of your oath of office and your long standing disregard” for state law and party rules, Baril wrote Prizer.
Unbowed, Prizer then called for a closed meeting, to be held at Grand Haven, the gated community, on Nov. 9, where only members of the committee as of September would be allowed. She left a list of names of those who’d be accepted with the guard at Grand Haven’s entrance, with directions to bar anyone else from entering. “Only members who receive this email direct from me are official members of the executive committee,” Prizer decreed, in an all-capital-letter email, on Oct. 3, that went to 26 people. The list distinctly excludes most tea party members. That tactic did get a response from the state party, which told Prizer not to hold another meeting in a gated community.
A petition was circulated to remove Prizer from her position. That vote was taken at the Nov. 9 meeting. Prizer refused to recognize the vote. The state Republican party was “notified of these violations of policy, statute and procedures,” the lawsuit reads, “but has failed or refused to recognize the validity of the October 12, 2011meeting and vote, as well as the November 9, 2011 impeachment results against Prizer.”
Full List of Complainants in the Class-Action Lawsuit, as Appended to the Lawsuit