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Republicans need to rebuild after recent antics


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 28, 2000

Imagine the month Bill and Ann Bunting are having.

They've gone from the Republican Party's exalted rulers to exorcised demons.

Their plan to open one of Pasco County's first charter schools is being delayed. (You've got to figure they'll be graded poorly under the category "works and plays well with others.")

And now their Republican Club's Adopt-a-Highway designation is under attack in Port Richey. Recently elected council member Joseph Menicola, a disgruntled ex-member of the GOP Executive Committee, says he never sees anyone cleaning Washington Street. He suspects the club just wants the free advertising that comes with the program's street sign.

Maybe. Or, maybe they only pick up spent shell casings.

Just as likely, according to the Buntings, Menicola's statements are a personal vendetta over previous Republican politics.

If you ever wonder why you should care about this political infighting, this is a good example. The Adopt-a-Highway program is run by Pasco County even in the city of Port Richey. Menicola thinks that ought to be changed, with Port Richey assuming control of the program within its municipal limits.

In other words, he's contradicting basic Republican philosophy by advocating duplication of government services. Make sense to you?

Let me guess. Somebody will argue it's an issue of local control, another favorite doctrine.

Either way, Menicola should abandon this notion. There are more pressing matters in Port Richey than heavy-handed scr utiny of volunteer clean-up efforts.

Still, the episode illustrates the disdain in some circles toward the Buntings. Among broader thinkers, there is concern about having no county Republican party chairman just two months before the candidate qualifying period for the 2000 election, as well as the untold embarrassment over the pettiness being played out publicly.

It falls to Jeff Lucas to pick up the pieces of the Republican Party leadership. The New Port Richey attorney, a one-time state House candidate, had been president of the West Pasco Republican Club and presumably will take over duties as chairman of the Republican Executive Committee at its next meeting.

His previously unanimous election was voided by the state party, which also gave the boot to the Buntings and ex-party chair Zoltan Mayer, banning them from serving on the executive committee for two years. Oh yeah, the Second Amendment Republican Club lost its name as well.

The state handed out a dandy discipline lesson that can be used by the Republican club's charter school. This is the adult version of "time out."

The state party stepped in because of a grievance filed by Mayer against the Buntings stemming from a power play gone awry. Under it, Bill Bunting was to assume chairmanship of the party while Mayer would have become vice chair. Mayer is the second consecutive chairman targeted for ouster by the Buntings.

It was ill-timed and just plain foolish, considering the party elects new officers after the presidential election in November.

Of course, it's not like this stuff is exclusive to the Republican Party. The county Democratic Party powers are bewildered by two of their rising stars, Port Richey Mayor Eileen Ferdinand and ex-New Port Richey Mayor Peter Altman, entering the same race against two-term incumbent Democratic County Commissioner David "Hap" Clark Jr. But, at least the Democrats are smart enough to settle their differences at the ballot box.

The Buntings are hard-working party activists, and their club members have undertaken worthwhile community service projects. Yet, they can exhaust even their allies with their political minutiae.

Here's a for instance: Bill Bunting once telephoned complaining about the length of aletter to the editor from a writer offering an opinion with which he disagreed. He had counted the number of words in the letter.

The Buntings most likely will bounce back strongly from all this. They can channel their efforts exclusively into the club instead of being distracted by the machinations of the Republican Executive Committee.

The Second Amendment Republican Club, incidentally, now will be known as the Spirit of '76 Republican Club. It is smart to move the club's image from NRA to USA.

A fife and drum is more appealing than a Smith & Wesson and symbolically could be a small step toward rebuilding party unity.

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