By John Kennedy
The News Service of Florida
Two days after being elected chairman of the Florida Republican Party, Senator John Thrasher announced Monday that he was stepping down as head of the Senate panel overseeing election law.
Thrasher apparently told Senate President Jeff Atwater of his intentions to leave the Ethics & Elections Committee moments after he won the party chairmanship at a special Saturday meeting of the Republican Executive Committee, said Jaryn Emhof, an Atwater spokeswoman.
Speaking to Republicans gathered at the party session, Thrasher may have set the tone for leaving the committee by aggressively bashing Democrats and the media.
“Our focus is on beating our enemies – not ourselves,” Thrasher said. “Our enemy is the liberal media, and the Democrats.”
Thrasher’s comment drew a quick rebuke from Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee, who said the shot was “offensive” to state Democratic voters.
On Monday, Lawson told the News Service of Florida that he was pleased Thrasher chose to resign – and should also consider removing himself from the Senate’s Reapportionment Committee.
“He can’t serve two masters,” Lawson said. “His goal now is to elect as many Republican candidates as he can. He’s not necessarily going to be acting in the best interest of the state.”
Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, could not be immediately reached for comment. But last week, Thrasher said he had a preliminary talk with Atwater about his looming dual role as party boss and elections committee chairman but planned not to revisit the issue until after Saturday’s election.
Thrasher had sought the elections post after winning a Senate seat during a bitterly contested campaign last fall, in which he was on the receiving end of a more than $1 million tough television and direct-mail campaign that records later showed was largely financed by Florida trial lawyers.
Thrasher insisted he wanted to craft legislation that would impose new restrictions on these so-called 527 committees, which currently are unregulated in Florida. Those efforts, along with re-establishing party “leadership funds” to steer contributions toward House and Senate races, have emerged as a priority of rising legislative leaders and are likely to continue under a new chairman.
Emhof said a decision on Thrasher’s successor would be coming soon, with the legislative session beginning March 2. Considered among the likely replacements are Sens. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.