Like members of rival teams, shirt color can help identify different factions at the Broward Republican Party.
Last month, the color was red, worn by supporters of Republicans who had voiced their support for same-sex marriage.
On Monday night, the color was white – printed with excerpts of the national party platform – worn by people unhappy with the woman who organized the red-shirt wearers four weeks before, party secretary Cara Pavalock.
And pleas for unity from Broward’s top Republican Party official – who even invoked the man revered by Republicans, Ronald Reagan – didn’t seem to have much effect.
The immediate cause of Monday night’s discord was people unhappy about Pavalock’s call on the eve of the June meeting for people to wear red in support of party members who’d gone public with their support for same-sex marriage. About 15 or so of the 150 people in attendance did so.
For Monday’s July meeting, four Republican Party committeemen and committeewomen – who make up the Broward Republican Executive Committee, the governing body of the county party – showed up in white t-shirts.
Each shirt was printed with 12 lines of black type, starting with the statement “Preserving and Protecting Traditional Marriage,” and continuing with excerpt from the section of the national Republican platform that states the party position against same-sex marriage.
Broward Republican Chairman Tom Truex addressed the controversy early on. He did it somewhat indirectly, never mentioning same-sex marriage or Pavalock. He said there have been “questions” about Republican Party leaders expressing their views even when they don’t agree with the party platform.
“There is no requirement that everyone in BREC agree with 100 percent of what is in the party platform,” he said. Party leaders retain their First Amendment rights to free speech, Truex said.
Later, Sharon Day of Fort Lauderdale, the No. 2 official at the national Republican Party, and the elected state committeewoman for Broward County, issued an impassioned plea for unity and an end to infighting.
She paraphrased Reagan, who said that someone who agreed with him 80 percent of the time isn’t a 20 percent enemy.
“We are destroying ourselves as a party,” Day said. “We are so quick to fight with ourselves that we are not even fighting the other side. We have lost sight of who the enemy is.”
Day said Republicans should focus their energies on spreading the word about the advantages of the Republican Party and on what she said are the disastrous policies of President Barack Obama, who is presiding over “an overreaching administration that is destroying our country.”
“I’m asking you, let’s stand together. Let’s take the battle to the streets…. Let’s not get caught up in the things that don’t make a big difference for your future,” she said.
About half the people attending stood and applauded Day when she was done.
Day said later her comments weren’t aimed at the controversy over Pavalock and same-sex marriage, but to all divisiveness among local Republicans. In February, Rico Petrocelli quit as chairman less than four months after he was elected to the job, citing “irreconcilable differences” with the county Republican Party's board.
Truex and Day said in interviews that they didn’t think Pavalock should be removed as party secretary. “I don’t think she should be removed. I support the chairman,” Day said.
The party leaders’ support didn’t satisfy everyone.
As the gathering hit the two hour mark, committeeman Ed Bender got up during the “new business” portion to make a motion to remove Pavalock. By that time, about half the people had left, there wasn’t a quorum and Bender couldn’t make his motion.
Bender, Danita Kilcullen and Jack Gillies, all leading members of the Tea Party Fort Lauderdale in addition to their roles as members of the Republican committee and all wearing shirts opposing same-sex marriage then took turns speaking during the open mic portion of the gathering.
Gillies said it’s a mistake for Republicans to support same-sex marriage. “If we continue to slide to the left and forget God’s values, how are we going to get people to show up and vote [for Republicans].”
Kilcullen explained that the t-shirt shows what she believes. “This is what I signed onto, the Republican platform. Anything less than that is like the Democratic Party,” she said. In a recent email, Kilcullen suggested Pavalock should be asked to resign. She stopped short of that Monday evening, but suggested that when party officers are picked in the future, “perhaps people should be vetted.”
Spinks Edwards also took to the mic to endorse Day’s invoking of Reagan’s 80-20 statement and warn the party of the dangers of appearing intolerant of dissenting views. “We should not forget that my generation overwhelmingly supports gay marriage. I’m OK if we disagree, that’s fine,” he said. “I believe in limited government – both fiscally and socially.”
Edwards, 24, who wore a red shirt last month, supports same-sex marriage. Bender, Kilcullen and Gillies are all in their late 50s or 60s.
Pavalock wasn’t present. Truex said she’s on vacation. Though she didn’t hear the complaints this week, Bender said the issue wouldn’t go away.
“It’s not about hating her or anything like that,” Bender said. “I will follow through…. I don’t think it should be swept under the rug.”