Image: – – On Point Broadcasting
One thing needs to be made perfectly clear.
The Okaloosa GOP did not “blast” state Rep. Matt Gaetz.
But a recent headline by the Panama City newspaper, which suggested just that, caught the attention of the highest ranking members of Okaloosa County's Republican Executive Committee.
They wanted it made clear that when Okaloosa County Commissioners Wayne Harris and Nathan Boyles endorsed Gaetz's opponent in the race for the First District state Senate seat, it did not constitute the GOP blasting, bashing, or even endorsing, anyone.
“We are the true political party,” said OCREC Vice Chairman Laurie Bartlett. “They are not even members of the political party.”
It's true, explained Gaye Ellis, the OCREC chairwoman.
While Harris and Boyles may be card-carrying Republicans elected to office on the GOP ticket, they are not part of the party apparatus, and therefore not qualified to speak for the party.
While there are 74,000 registered Republicans in Okaloosa County who identify themselves as party members, the actual number is much smaller, Ellis said.
“The Okaloosa GOP is the actual party, a legal entity representing each county which, through its executive committee, is the governing body of the party itself,” she noted.
OCREC is comprised of people who sign up with the Supervisor of Elections Office to serve as precinct captains for the county's 52 precincts. To be considered, they must have attended three executive committee meetings and be voted in by the existing membership.
OCREC's job is to educate and get out the vote, Ellis said. It is bound by state rules and could face fines for endorsing one Republican candidate over another.
That's what made the “Okaloosa GOP blasts Gaetz” headline so offensive, she said.
“It infers that the official party was saying that we agreed with Wayne Harris that Matt Gaetz ought to be in jail, or whatever he said,” Ellis said. “He is simply a registered Republican. He's not a member of the party.”
(Harris had told a Democratic-leaning club that if he had the authority, he would put Gaetz in jail.)
Both Boyles and Harris said when they spoke in reference to Gaetz, or to endorse his opponent, Bay County Commissioner George Gainer, they were speaking for no one other than themselves.
“No way were my words intended to indicate any party endorsement of any state Senate candidate over the other,” Boyles said.
“Any time I make a comment, it's from me,” said Harris.
And while Boyles contended that his being elected as a Republican, speaking to groups as a Republican and attending meetings, even OCREC meetings, as a Republican makes him a pretty darn good Republican, he and Harris are not alone as elected leaders existing outside the party apparatus.