Cardenas to step aside as leader of state GOP
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- After helping his party win historic victories, state Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas said Thursday that he will not seek re-election when his term expires in January.
"I'm going back to the family and the law firm and see what opens up," Cardenas said. "I have six kids and have to put four more of them through college."
Cardenas replaced former state Sen. Tom Slade at the party's helm in 1999. Together, they crafted the strategy that saw Republicans rise from a minority role in the state Capitol to running the place.
During Slade's six-year term as chairman, Republicans took control of the House, Senate and governor's mansion. Cardenas increased the majorities in both houses and, this year, declared the election "a clean sweep" as the GOP took control of the Cabinet and continued to increase its legislative majorities.
"I've enjoyed it a lot," Cardenas said. "How do you put two election cycles back to back like this? First the historic presidential election, and then this dramatic election. We were able to achieve a lot."
For Cardenas, 2002 marked his 30th year in Republican party leadership. He began serving the party while a student in law school in New Jersey, where he was elected chairman of the Ocean County party at age 23.
"It's time to go," Cardenas said. "I leave my post confident that the Republican Party of Florida will remain Florida's majority party for years to come."
A Cuban-American who came to the United States when he was 12, Cardenas said he expects to return to a full-time law practice at Tew Cardenas Rebak Kellogg Lehman DeMaria Tague Raymond & Levine in Miami. But he doesn't rule out a return to public service.
Cardenas said several GOP officials have expressed interest in his job, including vice chairman Jim Stelling of Seminole County; Carol Jean Jordan of Indian River County; Paul Senft of Polk County and Pinellas GOP chairman Paul Bedinghaus. Cardenas said he expects the new chairman to be selected in "a wide-open election."
Bedinghaus, also state party treasurer, said Thursday he will decide within a week whether to seek the post. He said he corresponded this week with Gov. Jeb Bush, who told him he would not endorse a candidate.
Incoming Senate President Jim King said some Republicans are interested in giving the job to former Sen. Don Sullivan of St. Petersburg, Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney or Sally Bradshaw, former chief of staff for Bush.
While Cardenas is leaving the field at the top of his game, Democrats are squabbling about why they lost and how to regroup.
"In some ways I'm sad to see him go," said Democratic Party chairman Bob Poe. "We had a good sparring relationship. We kept it political and didn't get personal."
Poe has called a meeting of leading Democrats Nov. 23 to evaluate the state of the party. Some Democrats blame Poe for their losses and want him out, but Poe says he isn't going anywhere. His term expires after the 2004 presidential election.
"We have unfinished business," Poe said Thursday. "I wouldn't be fulfilling my responsibilities and obligations if I left."
Poe said the party needed the results of the Nov. 5 election to assess its problems. He said no single problem caused the party's overwhelming defeat.
"We have a laundry list of problems," Poe said. "We haven't identified them all."
"I'm going to help rebuild the party," Poe said. "It's never easy. We have to change our whole culture."
For years, the state's Democrats geared up for a six-month fight every two years, doing little between elections to cultivate local party organizations and candidates, Poe said.
"We didn't do enough building of infrastructure and training and outreach," he said. "You can't just turn these things on for six months every two years and succeed."
Now the party's finance committee, legislators, labor unions, trial lawyers and other key leaders will try to determine what needs to be done. The meeting will be closed to the press and public, Poe said.
Some detractors who want Poe's job don't qualify under party rules, he said, because they aren't elected committeemen or committeewomen. For example, Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox reportedly wants the chairmanship, but does not hold a party office. Maddox could not be reached for comment.
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From the Times state desk
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