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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014
Politics

Activist’s email might sink diversity panel bid

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TAMPA -

A national organization that works on diversity issues has blackballed Hillsborough County conservative activist Terry Kemple’s application to be on a local diversity advisory group.

The National Diversity Council recommended that Kemple not be named to the local panel because of an email he sent to his supporters disparaging the local diversity council as a vehicle to promote homosexuality.

The email also attacked county Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who promoted the idea of a local diversity council. Kemple said the council was another attempt by Beckner, who is gay, to “create special rights in county law for people based on their sexual practices.”

“When diversity is used in a context like this, it almost always has some connotation or some underpinning of advancing the normalization of homosexual behavior,” Kemple said. “I probably mentioned Commissioner Beckner in the email because he’s the one who came up with idea for a diversity council.”

When Beckner saw the email, he asked County Administrator Mike Merrill to forward it to the National Diversity Council’s Florida office, which commissioners chose to vet applicants to the local diversity group. Commissioners will consider the regional council’s recommendations on Wednesday.

Beckner said it was obvious from Kemple’s email that he doesn’t believe in the council’s mission and would try to undermine it if chosen to serve. He cited Kemple’s well-publicized campaigns against gay rights and his attempts to bar Muslim speakers from public schools.

“In his past background he has done nothing to promote inclusivity within our community,” Beckner said. “If you’re not a Christian heterosexual person he’s gone out of his way to exclude those people from public policy.”

Merrill said he sent Kemple’s email to the national council after first checking with the county attorney to make sure he wasn’t violating commission policy. All of Kemple’s personal information was redacted, Merrill said, “so there wasn’t pressure or prejudice either way.”

After receiving the national council’s recommendation to disqualify the email’s author, Merrill said he called Kemple in to explain personally what had happened.

Afterward, Merrill sent a memo to county commissioners explaining his actions. He attached the national council’s recommended board members, which did not include Kemple’s name, as well as the inflammatory email.

Kemple said he doesn’t see a contradiction in applying to sit on a panel that he attacked in an email.

“The fact is the council is going to exist because the county commission voted to create it,” Kemple said. “I wanted to make sure the people that have similar (political and cultural) positions to mine are fairly represented on the council.”

The national council’s recommendations are not binding and commissioners could still choose to seat Kemple by a majority vote.

“We’ll see how it goes down Wednesday,” Kemple said.

Kemple has announced his candidacy for the District 4 school board seat representing east Hillsborough. Last November, he was defeated by longtime, incumbent school board member Carol Kurdell in the race for the countywide District 7 seat.


msalinero@tampatrib.com

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