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Group asks Bush to decry GOP chief

Black church leaders are upset with the state party chairman's remark about a vote drive.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- For a political party that is trying to draw more minorities to its ranks, the scene outside state Republican headquarters Wednesday was not the kind of photo opportunity that imagemakers would have chosen.

Smack in front of Tallahassee's new George Bush Republican Center, 13 grim-faced black church leaders in dark suits faced television cameras and decried the party's chairman for calling a recent minority get-out-the-vote drive a "hate tour."

"This is too important an issue to allow it to go unchallenged," said the Rev. Ernest Ferrell, who heads the 40,000-member Florida State Primitive Baptist Convention. "I'd like for Gov. Jeb Bush to admit the fact that this person -- a person of leadership within the Republican Party -- made an error. I think (Bush) ought to say it was an inappropriate act. I think the governor has a responsibility to respond."

The flap began last week when state Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas lambasted the "Save Florida: Arrive with Five" statewide voter drive, an effort to get women and minorities to vote and bring five others with them on Nov. 7. The drive is being led by Barbara Devane-Gilberg of the National Organization for Women, state Rep. Tony Hill and state Sen. Kendrick Meek, two African-American lawmakers who staged a sit-in at the governor's office this spring to protest Bush's One Florida plan to overhaul affirmative action.

In a news release put out by the Florida Republican Party, Cardenas called the drive a "hate tour."

"We will follow closely the 15 stops of this hate tour to see if any Republicans are allowed the opportunity to be involved in this effort," Cardenas' statement said.

Bush has refused to comment, and the black church leaders who gathered outside Republican headquarters said the governor's silence tells its own story.

"His lack of response is an indication that he supports what Cardenas said," Ferrell said.

Marvin Davies, a St. Petersburg civil rights activist, showed up at the news conference as a consultant for the church leaders.

"There's never a reason to call anyone a hate group unless you're sure that at some point they've espoused hate," Davies said. Republican Party officials said Cardenas is out of the country.

Bush spokesman Justin Sayfie said Bush should be judged on his actions. "The governor is not going to comment," Sayfie said. "Anyone who questions his commitment to diversity and his commitment to ensuring equal opportunity for everyone can look at his record."

Republican Party executive director Jamie Wilson called the voter drive "nothing more than a front for the new radical Democratic leadership in our state."

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