The two major chartered Republican clubs in Flagler County — the Flagler County Republican Club and the Republican Club of Palm Coast — will shut down at midnight March 31 to comply with an order issued by the county’s Republican Executive Committee.
“The REC has made their decision,” Flagler County Republican Club President Wes Priest said in an interview March 30. “We appealed it, and there’s still things in process about that, but effectively after tomorrow, we have to shut down until it’s resolved. So we’re just taking a hiatus, and seeing where we’re going.”
The clubs’ dissolution occurs in the context of a conflict between the Ronald Reagan Republican Assembly of Flagler County and competing local Republican Clubs.
The RRRs completed a takeover of the county’s Republican Executive Committee — which has authority over which Republican Clubs are chartered and permitted to use the Republican Party’s name, and which are not — when RRR member and former Palm Coast City Council candidate Anne-Marie Shaffer was elected without opposition to chair the county REC Dec. 17.
Feb. 18, Shaffer sent letters to Flagler County Republican Club President Wes Priest and Republican Club of Palm Coast President Ed Fuller telling them that the Flagler County REC would not renew the groups’ charters.
Palm Coast City Councilman Bill McGuire, a former RRR member who has since split from the group, said he didn’t believe the county REC’s decision to disband the clubs will stand.
If it does, he said, “What it will mean is that Ann-Marie Shaffer and that group of people will be in charge of whatever Republicans do in Flagler County, and I know a lot of people who will have a problem with that. …Speaking for myself, I’m not happy with it. I don’t understand why they’d want to disband a club that’s been in operation, been successful, supported candidates.”
But Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said the RPOF can’t contravene the Flagler County REC’s decision. “At the moment, the only thing that involves us is if we have a request to ratify and recharter,” which would have to come from the county’s REC, she said. As to an appeal, she said, “To our knowledge, right now there’s not a process for that.”
In her Feb. 18 letter to Priest, Shaffer wrote that the decision not to renew the Flagler County Republican Club’s charter “was not made for casual, trivial, or personal disagreements, but only to protect the interests of the Republican Party of Florida from the offenses committed by this club. … The FCRC has violated its current charter, put the Republican Party of Flagler County at risk of legal action, violated campaign finance law, and publically misrepresented itself as the authority of the Republican Party in Flagler County.”
A similar letter Shaffer sent to Fuller said the REC would not renew the Palm Coast club’s charter because the club had hosted non-Republican speakers — Shaffer’s letter mentioned a Jan. 29 event at which the club invited county Economic Development Executive Director Helga Van Eckert — without explicit permission, in violation of state party rules.
“The new chairwoman wants to do her own stuff,” Priest said. “Since she’s been chairwoman, the club has never gotten a phone call or had a meeting with her. She obviously does not want to work with the existing clubs or the people there. She has her own agenda. In my opinion, it’s bad for the party because it’s very divisive.”
Priest, who said he’s been a Flagler County Republican Club officer for 13 years, said that because Shaffer hasn’t spoken with him about the issues raised in her letter, he’s not sure exactly where her allegations are coming from.
“We don’t feel that we have done anything wrong; we were just doing what we’ve always done for the past 20 years,” he said. “(Shaffer) has never talked to me about any of these issues. She’s never called me. She’s never discussed anything with me. She started out saying she was going to get rid of the clubs. I don’t know what her agenda is.”
Priest said he hopes the two Republican clubs can be reconstituted before the 2016 elections. The RRR monopoly over the local Republican Party, he said, has implications for Republicans’ ability to win local elections.
“Members of that group have taken over the REC, and they’re going in a different direction,” Priest said. “I just don’t think we’re going to be able to win elections unless we reach all of our party, and reach out to independents and even Democrats who agree with us on the issues. Right now, that’s not what’s happening.”
Priest said the Flagler County Republican Club leadership is in touch with the Republican Party of Florida to see what the club's options are.
Both clubs, he said, have some time before they’re required to comply with a state party rule requiring them to turn over their assets to the Republican Party of Florida, which would then redistribute them to the Flagler County Republican Executive Committee.
Fuller and Shaffer did not reply to the Palm Coast Observer’s requests for comment.