Rockledge Realtor Rick Lacey says he felt confident he’d win a second two-year term as chairman when his fellow members of the Brevard County Republican Executive Committee met Wednesday.
He just didn’t think he’d win as easily as he did, considering state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Melbourne Beach) had circulated a last-minute letter faulting Lacey’s leadership and demanding he step down.
“I knew this was going to be close,” Lacey said Thursday. “I did better than I thought I would.”
He said Wednesday night’s closed meeting in Viera gave him 95 votes to 59 for challenger Matt Nye, a Tea Party leader and primary opponent of state Rep. Thad Altman (R-Indialantic).
Nye described himself as representing Fine and 12 other county GOP leaders, who signed his letter. But Fine himself, who wasn’t even seeking the chairmanship, got 5 votes from the floor.
Josiah Gattle, a former party staffer, had announced his campaign for the chairmanship. But he withdrew in the meeting and threw his support to Nye.
“He used 10 minutes to attack me and then he withdrew,” Lacey said.
Fine said the letter, which he posted Monday on his Facebook page, was not solely his work. He said others helped, including County Commission Chairwoman Kristine Isnardi; her husband, former GOP committee Vice Chairman David Isnardi; county commissioners Bryan Lober and John Tobia; Melbourne City Council members Tim Thomas and Paul Alfrey; West Melbourne City Councilman John Dittmore; and five committee members who don’t hold public office.
Among the accusations, the letter faulted Lacey for:
• Ignoring Republicans in northern and southern parts of Brevard County, while focusing on the central area where Lacey lives.
In his letter of rebuttal, Lacey said Fine wanted committee meetings to rotate around the county. But wherever meetings are held, he said, dedicated Republicans will attend and the less-interested may not.
• Criticizing the campaign of Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis.
Lacey defended his comments. DeSantis could have run a better campaign, he said. “The race should not have been so close the Democrat almost stole the election,” he said. “Over 8 million votes and the margin of victory was only 34,000.”
• Botching the mailing of Republican slates, a list of every GOP candidate in the county – including those running in nonpartisan city elections.
The letter said the mailers were late, arriving at voters’ homes after early voting, and contained errors. The letter said the GOP slates had to be corrected and mailed again, giving the advantage to the Democrats, who were efficient in sending out correct mailers on time.
Lacey said this was the first time the Republican committee mailed out slates. “If you did everything perfectly the first time you did it, I’d be very impressed,” he wrote.
And the result was eight Democrats winning election to seats in five city councils, said Stacey Patel, chairwoman of the county Democratic Executive Committee.
“I appreciate the (Fine group’s) compliments, but Rick Lacey was not the one doing our hard work,” Patel said. “I am glad they recognized the hard work we did.”
While a candidate in a nonpartisan race isn’t allowed under state law to cite his or her party affiliation to get votes, Patel said, the law doesn’t prevent a party from endorsing or donating to the same candidate.
“It’s really a misnomer to call a race ‘nonpartisan,’” Patel said.
There may not be a directly Democratic or Republican approach to all the local issues a city must face, she said. But that’s not the point of her support. She said the Democrats seek to establish a “bench” of candidates experienced in campaigning for the next time a partisan race unfolds.
And Fine had no problem with Patel working politics the way she did.
“No, she wasn’t cheating. It’s legal,” he said. “She should feel very proud. This was proof of her skills. … But Rick Lacey was supposed to help us, and we don’t think he was doing a good job.”
In his next term, Lacey said, he plans to improve the way the GOP supports candidates in nonpartisan races. But in addition, he said, he also wants to unite the existing membership and reach out to voters in the 18-25 age group and beef up Young Republican Clubs.
Meanwhile, County Commissioner Kristine Isnardi, of Palm Bay, whose colleagues selected her as 2019’s chair, will have to work with Lacey for the second half of her four-year term – albeit identifying herself as one of his 13 top critics. “Oh sure, I can work with anyone,” she said. “But this problem is bigger than Rick Lacey. He’s just the leader of the board.”
The committee is marked by in-fighting, she said. And that limits its effectiveness.