TAMPA — Hillsborough County Tea Party leader Sharon Calvert and one of her political allies both won offices in the Hillsborough County Republican Party on Tuesday, leading one GOP leader to worry about a tea party takeover.
Others, including county party Chairman Tom Lee, say that’s not the case.
Calvert, co-founder of the Tampa Tea Party, was elected local GOP secretary, and Tony Jackson, a Republican activist who managed Calvert’s 2012 campaign for county commissioner, was elected state committeeman, one of two local party delegates to the state party executive committee.
That led county Commissioner Victor Crist to worry Wednesday that, “The tea party is taking a deeper role” in the local party.
“The tea party has its own agenda, and while there may be some common ground with the Republican agenda, there are also significant differences,” said Crist, who’s considered a moderate Republican. “Not all Republicans are tea party members – just a very small percentage.”
There was already tension between Crist and Calvert.
Crist appointed Calvert to the county Citizen Advisory Committee about three years ago, but in 2012, Calvert ran against Crist for his county commissioner’s seat.
When she resigned from the committee shortly before the election, Calvert accused Crist of unethical conduct in office; Crist denied her assertions and accused her of using the committee seat as a base for political maneuvering.
He defeated her in the August 2012 primary and was unopposed in the general election.
Calvert denied there’s any attempt by an outside group to take over the party.
“I will bring my ideas just like every other board member,” she said. “I believe we can become a united force. If you look at the Republican platform last year, it’s a good one. The party platform and principles really fit with conservatives.”
Jackson, despite his close ties to Calvert, didn’t describe himself as a tea party member, saying he’s been “a quiet, loyal soldier in the party for 15 years,” before the advent of the tea party, and a “Reagan conservative.”
Calvert only narrowly beat a young, comparative newcomer to the party, Ryan Patrick, by 65 votes to 62 among the party executive committee members.
Jackson defeated three other candidates, including Paul Fosse, a Rand Paul backer who several party activists said is as a tea party adherent.
Lee, a state senator from Brandon, said he sees no tea party takeover and that the election was based more on “who’s been in the trenches and done the heaviest lifting for the party” rather than ideology.
“There were candidates I would consider to represent the more conservative side of our local party, but I didn’t see much coalition-building around that,” he said.
Calvert replaces former party secretary Robin Lankford, who resigned from the post; Jackson replaced former state committee man Bill “Hoe” Brown, who left his party office after a scandal about substandard rental housing he owned.