In central east coast Florida, also known as the “Space Coast” because of NASA’s presence there, three groups of limited government activists joined together, and have become a force to be reckoned with that the local political establishment just didn’t see coming. Their story represents the power of citizen engagement and shows how average people can be more powerful than special interests if they organize effectively.
This past year, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Central East Florida, Space Coast Patriots and Brevard 912 groups decided to pool their resources, be they activists, money, brainpower, you name it – and they started what they call the Liberty Catalyst Fund. Learning from their experiences in 2010, the groups realized that their manpower, while relatively limited, was such that they could really impact local elections. And this cycle, they did.
Matt Nye, a leader with the Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC) of Central East Florida and the national Treasurer of the RLC told me a bit about what the Liberty Catalyst Fund was able to accomplish – and the results are impressive.
“The leaders of the Tea Party groups here came together a year ago because they wanted to have more of an impact in local elections. We all worked very hard in the 2010 elections calling and walking for grassroots candidates, but the results were discouraging. We were all also very involved in attending city and county meetings, but our officials seemed to simply tolerate our presence and vote for more spending and more taxes regardless of how many people we turned out to the meetings. We wanted to create a vehicle with which the Tea Party groups could get our message out in a manner that would directly affect the elections, and with the help of a local political consultant that is exactly what we did.”
Proving that politics, especially on a local level, is all about who shows up, these Florida activists made a major difference in several races - and the press took very direct notice.
As Florida Today reported:
“Dana Blickley, a 20-year employee of the property appraiser’s office who was fired by appraiser Jim Ford in 2006, ousted the 24-year incumbent Ford by 14 points in the three-way Republican primary for the office. She was backed by the fund.
County Commissioner Trudie Infantini has been battling her fellow commissioners — three of four of whom are also Republicans — almost since she took office in 2008. She took 56 percent of the vote in a three-way GOP race that included former two-term commissioner Helen Voltz. Infantini was backed by the fund.
Scott Ellis, the intellectual guru of the local Tea Party movement, resigned as Clerk of Courts in 2010, halfway through his second term. But this year, he challenged Mitch Needelman, the man who replaced him as clerk, in the Republican primary. Ellis got 61 percent of the vote. Ellis was backed by the fund.”
These impressive results, which derive from $15,000 in grassroots fundraising and manpower, show that citizens really can impact the process if they are smart about how they engage and pick battles where they can really have an impact.
As Matt also told me:
“What makes the Liberty Catalyst Fund different from all of the other Electroineering Communications Organizations (ECOs) in this election is that we wanted people to know who was behind the ads, whereas most of the time the ECOs are simply fronts for candidates so they don’t have to have their names attached if there are negative attacks involved. All of the mail pieces, robo-calls and emails done by the Liberty Catalyst Fund were factual, and focused, in the case of incumbents, on the candidates’ records, or, in the case of non-incumbents, disputing claims they made while campaigning.”
We applaud the great work of these citizen activists, and hope their success will serve as a model that empowers others who are working to make a difference in our political system.