Just two months ago, the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County almost witnessed a radical change when former Ron Paul supporters failed, by only two votes, to take over the leadership of the party. Since then, however, the liberty movement in South Florida didn't stop and claimed a series of new victories on Thursday night, at the monthly meeting of the Republican Executive Committee.
About 100 local Republican leaders met in West Miami, the hometown of prospective GOP hero Marco Rubio. Gathered in the Renaissance Ballroom, the party, representing the second most important political power in the county behind the Democratic Party, was mainly focused on electing new alternate committee members.
The way local Republican Parties work is often confusing, especially when reporters try to explain it during national primaries. In reality, it is simpler than it seems. A county is divided into many districts, according to census data (mainly dating back to two or three decades ago). Each district is represented at the Republican Executive Committee by two committeeman and two committeewoman, who act as community organizers in their respective districts. These delegates are represented by alternates when they are unable to attend a REC meeting.
Miami-Dade County is divided into 40 districts. The district heads were chosen last year during the presidential primaries and enthroned only a few months back. Their alternates were finally chosen on Thursday night.
In total, 49 alternates were chosen this week. Most of them only had to apply for their position. But seven districts had contested races. The different candidates were given 30 seconds each to deliver a speech in which they explained their reasons for running. There were two types of addresses: some people chose to talk about the "dangers of the reduction of the nuclear stockpile", while others addressed their concerns about the Constitution and the deterioration of individual rights.
At the end of the races, eight libertarian-leaning Republicans were elected as alternates out of fourteen. In total, 21 libertarians, mostly college students, were sworn-in on February 21st as alternate committee members.
Tom Regnier, new alternate from District 10 (Miami Beach), talked of his reasons to run for the position in daring terms. "The party's going in the wrong direction. Its moving toward collectivism and socialism, while it should be moving toward individualism." Regnier is a constitutional lawyer who had been largely involved with the Libertarian Party of Florida in the 1990s. More recently, he was featured as a guest speaker at a Libertarian Party of Miami-Dade County event.
Cesar Jose Diaz, from District 36, was elected unopposed. According to him, it is important to "put more power into the people's hands, instead of politicians who don't really know what poverty is."
The regular party business had its own share of controversy. One of the first motions discussed by the REC, as proposed by Chairman Nelson Diaz, was the passage of the new by-laws. Many committee members opposed the passage as there had not been enough time to read the entire document.
Hector Roos, elected as an alternate from District 29 and activist with the Republican Liberty Caucus, characterized the chairman's attempt to pass the by-laws despite opposition as a tentative to rush through the fact that the new document will strengthen the position of the Chairman. According to Diaz, however, the document will be a living document, changeable at any meeting. The motion eventually passed.
Nelson Diaz, who was barely elected as the new local GOP chairman last December, remains a figure of controversy in local Republican politics. While some are trying to get over the fact that he had donated money to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, many are still shocked by his lobbying efforts for red light traffic cameras, which had been ruled unconstitutional by a Florida judge.
The rest of the meeting, however, was not a typical Establishment Republican talk show. REC members condemned Gov. Rick Scott's signature of the Medicaid expansion. Others talked about the need for Republicans to join the fight for immigration reform in order to attract more young adults. Linda Mari Todd, Vice-President of the Old Cutler Women Republicans Club, presented a plan to take over local Parent Teachers Associations in order to promote school choice.
The Republicans in Miami-Dade County will meet again on the fourth Thursday of March. Meanwhile, local libertarians will do their best to gain more influence within the party and recruit new members. It is clear that the new generation of Republicans in South Florida will offer a new face to the party's neoconservative platform. The question remains, when will libertarians begin to take over the Democratic Party?