Tuesday, February 13, 2024

ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN: Evan Power says being both party chair, lobbyist is natural fit to strengthen Florida GOP. (USA Today Network/Tallahassee Democrat)

How trite.  Quoting Matthew 6:24, the United States Supreme Court says that the most fundamental principle of ethics is "A man cannot serve two masters." United States v.  Mississippi Valley Generating Company ("the Dixon-Yates case"), 364 U.S. 520  (1961)


Evan Power says being both party chair, lobbyist is natural fit to strengthen Florida GOP

James Call
Capital Bureau | USA TODAY Network – Florida

The 250 members of the Florida Republican Party's Executive Committee who arrived in Tallahassee last month to remove the party chair and elect a new onewere greeted by the then-vice chair with a handshake and a smile.

Evan Power stood in the doorway of the Tallahassee Conference Center, just off the interstate, next to a Cracker Barrel and minutes away from securing a long-sought goal – to be named leader of the Florida Republican Party.  

The 41-year-old Chattanooga, Tennessee, native was in his third attempt to be state chair. He had worked nearly 20 years for the opportunity that came when Christian Ziegler’s term as chair was derailed by allegations of rape and video voyeurism. Ziegler is still under investigation for the latter but police decided not to charge him with sexual battery.  

Power greeted committee members by name as they lined up for voting credentials and posed for pictures. He introduced his wife Melissa and their newborn, then chaperoned U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, walking with a cane, through the crowded hallway and into the meeting room. 

“I tell people this is my Super Bowl," Power said. "I really feel the party leadership is my true fit, working with elected officials, working with grassroots to build a common cause so that we can win elections.”

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Evan Powers poses for a portrait in front of the Historic Florida Capitol building on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.

A force for registering Republicans or a 'paper tiger'?

Power was talking as much about his career as he was about the campaign to become Florida GOP chief. He tells people about expanding party membership in Democratic-rooted Tallahassee, even reclaiming a state Senate seat that had been blue since the end of Reconstruction, and electing a Republican to the non-partisan local school board. 

Although outnumbered almost 2-to-1 in Leon County, the GOP has steadily eaten into Democrats' lead in voter registration during Power's tenure. They have increased registration and turnout locally in each election cycle since 2014 and outpaced Democrats 69% to 58% in voter turnout for the 2022 election.

Jon Ausman ran the Leon Democratic Party for more than 20 years beginning in the 1980s, and was the longest serving member of the Democratic National Committee in Florida history.

Retired from politics but still a collector of political data, he dismisses Power's accomplishments as the kind of stuff that looks good on paper: "Very flammable paper. If he ever meets competent competition, he's going down in flames."

When Ausman, for example, looks at Leon County voter registration numbers, voter turnout, and party spending in campaigns, he concludes Power is a paper tiger "blessed" with inept opposition.

Florida GOP Vice Chair Evan Power speaks to reporters after an emergency meeting of the party's executive board Sunday where Chair Christian Ziegler was stripped of his authority amid a rape allegation.

Of the 5,162 new voters in the last election cycle, just 58 were registered by either political party. "That's 1.1% of new voters and shows neither party is registering voters," Ausman said.

An examination of the 2022 contributions and expenditures by the Leon County Republican Party finds that almost 80% of funds were used on social events — not for what Ausman considers the fundamental party responsibility: Educating and turning out voters.

An early life in politics

After his 2004 graduation from Florida State University with a degree in finance, Power went to work for then-Florida House Rep. Marco Rubio, now the state's senior U.S. senator, before joining the Ramba Consulting Group. 

The six-member lobbying team consistently lands on the Top 25 lobbyist leaderboard as compiled by Florida Politics. State lobbyist compensation reports show Ramba Consulting billed clients an estimated $2.2 million in 2021. 

Power's clients this year include AT&T, the Automobile Dealers Association, the City of Daytona, the Florida Chiropractic Association, Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs and the Professional Vacation Rental Coalition, state records show.

Evan Power and family were on hand to greet committee members when they arrived in Tallahassee

While working for Rubio he also became active in the local party, getting elected vice chair of the Leon County GOP in 2010 and then chair in 2014. 

Power leveraged the local chairmanship to become the assistant treasurer of the state GOP in 2017. But a bid to become state party chair in 2018 was derailed by a drunk driving charge after Power declined to take a breath test. An off-duty police officer saw Power hit a parked vehicle. 

An edited version of the arresting officer's body-cam video recently went viral when tweeted on X by Democratic provocateur Thomas Kennedy. It shows Power explaining how he the collision occurred: "I turned. I couldn't see that car, and I just, like, drove," he slurred to a police officer.

Power said at the scene he had two bottles of Bud Light, added he was "not over the limit," but conceded he knew the incident was not going to end well for him.

A year later, however, Power went “old school” to reestablish himself as a statewide leader. He was named chair of the committee of county GOP chairs, according to University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett, in a discussion of Power’s rise in state politics. 

Evan Power watches as election results come in, with a group of party members on Election Night, Nov. 3, 2020.

'Chair of chairs' turns road warrior

As the "chair of chairs," Power logged over 270,000 miles traveling to party events in rural Hernando and Hamilton counties and others in urban Orange and Palm Beach. 

“He didn’t do it virtually. He physically showed up, put in the miles, established relationships, persuaded people and counted votes,” Jewett said, describing what he called “politics the way it used to be.” 

In 2022, Ziegler defeated Power for state chair after state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, stepped down. But Jewett noted that the role of a lobbyist and state party chair are quite similar, with the core of both being the establishment of relationships. 

“He put in tens of thousands of miles a month traveling to see people face-to-face, meet them at their events and talk with them," Jewett said. "That’s old-school politics in the best sense.”  

Power said his dual roles are a natural fit given his ability to work with lawmakers. That ability, he said, could reap benefits both for the GOP and for his employer. 

“That I have really good relationships with legislators, I guess, makes me valuable to my employer. But it is also why I could be a successful party chair because I have relationships with the elected officials and the ability to get them to help me raise money,” Power said. 

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow him on X: @CallTallahassee.

1 comment:

Sam said...

Gotta keep that money flowing to pay off the empty suits in the GOP. Republican party motto is "Pay me less money to do nothing, or you're gonna have to pay someone else more money to do something." Meanwhile they hoard people's tax money and do very little good with it, while big companies are protected from having to pay living wages amid high prices.. which suits the inegalitarian GOP agenda. Even if people were paying 50% of their income on housing, the GOP would declare victory.