A paperwork snafu has Lee County Republicans asking how the party defines loyalty:
Is it through service to the party resulting in election to office by an overwhelming number of Lee County's registered Republicans?
Or is it a timely signature on a loyalty oath that even some insiders were unaware had changed?
Votes versus rules might seem an easy call but apparently not in politics.
State Republican Party officials have backed the position of the local executive committee, which has determined that Marilyn Stout, duly elected Republican state committeewoman for Lee County with a near 73 percent majority, will not be seated.
Ms. Stout, with 15 years of consecutive party service - including previous election to represent Lee County Republicans at the state level - did not sign and file the "right" party loyalty oath on time.
Instead, state Republican leaders plan to seat the losing candidate in their own party election, Brenda Skupny, who received about 27 percent of the vote - but signed the proper loyalty oath required by the Republican Party of Florida and so qualified for the office.
Ms. Stout maintains she was neither told about the revised oath nor provided with a copy. Lee County Republican Executive Committee Chair Gary A. Lee says Ms. Stout never bothered to pick up the proper filing packet available from the local qualifying committee. Nor did she access the form available on-line.
As the two sides point fingers and proponents and detractors of each view line up, we have two questions: What about the 25,634 Republican voters who had no question of Ms. Stout's loyalty despite party efforts to oust her from the ballot? Do their votes to determine who from Lee County will represent them at the state level matter not at all?
If the answer is no, it's a slap to every registered voter, Republican or not.
Meanwhile the issue that should have been settled at the polls swirls on.
The answer, some say, is to oust Mr. Lee.
A number of leading Lee County Republicans, including recently re-elected Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah, have called a combination protest/press conference for Wednesday, Dec 17, on the Court House steps at 11:30 a.m. Upset with the loyalty oath contretemps and still steaming over the executive committee's endorsements in the countywide primary in August, we would venture they think Mr. Lee has not shown proper party loyalty himself.
But good luck with that - the Lee County party precinct reps just re-elected Mr. Lee to the chairmanship for the county's executive committee for the third time. With the votes in hand, he's not going anywhere.
Nor is Ms. Stout.
Despite being offered an at-large seat, Ms. Stout is filing a complaint with the party's grievance committee, which has the ability to resolve this mess.
Well, good for her. We wish her well and certainly would like to hope the committee rights what is a grievous wrong in the making.
In fact, we suggest that they do so.
Or, alternatively, that the Republican Party of Florida revisit its loyalty oath policy - remember, it's a qualification rule established by and enforced by the party, not a law - and extend the signature deadline for state committee positions as it did for precinct positions due to similar confusion. Ms. Stout is not the only state committee electee who failed to dot her Is and cross her Ts on this one - and Lee County Republican voters are not the only ones whose candidate of choice is being disqualified by the party they've chosen to serve.
Party politics, partisan politics or non, it's the voters that should prevail. It seems like a such a simple fix.
- Breeze editorial