For decades, the Republican Party of Florida has typically refused to support its Black candidates running for various political offices. The neglect continues.
BY THE FLORIDA COURIER STAFF
ST. PETERSBURG – In 1984, Florida Courier founder Charles W. Cherry, Sr. did something that was almost unthinkable at the time.
Cherry, Sr. ran as a Black Republican candidate for elective political office in Florida.
“He decided to run for a Florida House of Representatives seat representing Daytona Beach,” said Cherry’s son, current Florida Courier Publisher Charles W. Cherry II. “After a long career in Black activism, he felt he could improve the lives of Black Daytonans inside the political system. The local Democratic Party refused to support him.”
According to the younger Cherry, local Republicans decided to support his father instead.
“Dad believed he had an excellent chance to break the Democratic stranglehold on Black voters locally. But once he started campaigning, his local GOP support dried up,” Cherry remembers. “The Republican Party of Florida never contacted him. The fact that he was running against a White Democrat whose family was well-known in the Volusia County area didn’t help.”
‘Vote Cherry First’
Cherry, Sr.’s campaign strategy was to use his hard-won credibility as a longtime Black activist, business owner, and Bethune-Cookman College instructor to ask Black voters to cast a ballot for him on the Republican side first, before they voted for Democrats.
“He made up campaign buttons that said, “VOTE CHERRY FIRST,” Cherry II says. “But he needed resources, including access to money and volunteers. The Republican Party provided neither.”
Cherry, Sr., lost in a landslide.
Served state, city
Cherry, Sr., continued his activism and entrepreneurial activity, serving as the president of the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches and on the NAACP’s national board, running a real estate brokerage firm, and founding a radio station and a newspaper in Daytona Beach. Eventually, he was elected to the Daytona Beach City Commission, where he served three terms before dying in office in 2004.
It seems that more than 30 years later after Cherry, Sr.’s unsuccessful campaign, Republicans still won’t support qualified Black candidates, according to the head of a Black Republican political action committee.
‘A record number’
In a widely distributed press release this week, BlakPAC chairman George Farrell announced that that a “record number of Black conservatives have qualified for various elected political office throughout Florida, from the Panhandle to South Florida.”
While calling the candidacies “a major step forward in bringing diversity of opinion and viewpoint to Black political discourse,” Farrell criticized the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) and the GOP establishment for ignoring the achievements of those who qualified.
Added Farrell: “Although we know that much of the major media in Florida and the Florida Republican Party establishment will ignore these historic successes, BlakPAC is proud to support this next generation of forward-looking Black conservatives who will give Florida’s Black communities ‘choices and not echoes,’ in bringing creative solutions to some of the pressing problems facing Black America and its children.”
Formed last year
BlakPAC is a federally registered “Super PAC” (political action committee) that’s been in operation since January 2015. According to its website, www.blakpac.com, “BlakPAC contributes to conservative candidates who share our values and serve as positive role models. They are our best advocates for conservative ideas to be showcased in the community.”
The organization also provides candidate training, exit polling, voter research, and social media campaign services, and has set up paid internships for Black youth who are interested in working on political campaigns.
Politics, real estate
Ferrell, a Washington, D.C. native who attended Howard University, co-founded BlakPAC with former Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll.
Ferrell is a Tampa Bay-based real estate developer who lived in South America for a few years before relocating to Florida in the late 1990s, when he became involved with Jeb Bush’s gubernatorial campaign. In 2008, he moved to Costa Rica to work on sustainable real estate development and returned in Florida in 2012, when he again plunged into politics.
In recent years, there have been two high-profile victories for the state’s Black Republicans.
There’s gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott picking Carroll as his campaign running mate, and the election of Florida Congressman Allen West, a Black Republican conservative.
After winning a close gubernatorial election for Scott by campaigning relentlessly in Black Florida, Carroll resigned from office in March 2013 under pressure from Scott’s administration in the wake of a federal probe into a company she represented with ties to Internet cafes. She was later found to have no involvement in the alleged scandal. West lost his re-election bid in 2013.
Supporting Black candidates
According to Ferrell, BlakPAC is supporting the following Black GOP candidates for federal, state and local offices:
•Glo Smith is running for the District 5 Congressional seat, which covers Duval, Baker, Columbia, Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, Leon and Gadsden counties. Smith is an entrepreneur who earned a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Phoenix.
•Carla Spaulding is running for the District 18 Congressional seat, which covers Martin and St. Lucie and portions of Palm Beach Counties. A native of Jamaica, she is a U. S. Navy veteran and a mental health professor and holds a master’s degree in Nursing from the University of Phoenix.
• Mike Hill is a Florida state representative running for the state Senate District 2 seat in the Panhandle covering Escambia County and Pensacola. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran and a graduate of the Air Force Academy.
•Byron Donalds is running for a state House District 80 seat, which includes Collier County and Naples. Donalds has a work history in banking and insurance, and is a member of the board of trustees of Florida Southwestern State College and a founding board member for Mason Classical Academy, a public charter school in Naples.
•Stanley Gray is running for the Hillsborough County School Board District 7 seat. He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.
•Tallie Gainer III is running for the Leon County School Board District 4 seat and is a community organizer who has served as youth pastor, educator and empowerment coach.
•Felicia Nelson is running for the office of superintendent of schools in Putnam County. She holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Florida.
•Darryl Daniels is running for Clay County sheriff. He is a United States Navy veteran and attended the FBI Academy.
“It is truly sad that the Florida GOP establishment, and most of its candidates, appear to consider Florida’s 58,000 Black Republicans, and indeed all Black voters, as not worth their time, money and effort. They and their national cohorts and candidates have obviously learned nothing from the Romney minority vote debacle in 2014,” Ferrell said in the press release.
In a statement, Michael Barnett, chair of Palm Beach County Republican Party’s Minority Engagement Committee said, “…I have witnessed first-hand the commitment to diversity from Republican Party of Florida. Our party, both locally and statewide, has taken great steps in engaging and creating a platform for Black conservatives both in our party and as candidates. I believe that these truths are evident in the grassroots events and efforts that the RPOF is dedicated to.”
Two of the candidates BlakPAC supports, Hill and Donalds, also responded.
“…I can personally vouch for the efforts of Chairman Blaise Ingoglia and the Republican Party of Florida to diversify our party and welcome all voters from all backgrounds to the conservative movement. And while I understand that the party will not intervene in an open primary, I am thankful that they continue to build an organization based upon the tenets of individual freedom and self-responsibility,” Hill replied.
Said Donalds: “…I have been welcomed with open arms by the Republican Party of Florida. The Republican Party is the party of opportunity regardless of skin color, gender or demographics…I plan to win my primary and become the Republican nominee in my district and have the full support of the party.”
“Outside of lip service, the Republican Party hasn’t helped BlakPAC or the candidates,” Ferrell told the Florida Courier. “Our goal is to elect Black conservatives. That’s not really the goal of the Republican Party.
“In some places, our goals match. But if they don’t, they don’t. The Republican Party needs to understand that if you don’t have Black candidates, you don’t get Black voters.
“If you look at the numbers, you need Black Republicans to vote for Republicans. If they stay home, Republicans lose. That’s why Rick Scott is the governor today.”