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Florida Tea Party Challenges Dems, GOP on Government, Taxes

June 3, 2010 - 6:00pm

A new third party with a familiar name calling for scaling back the size and cost of government has emerged in Florida hoping to take advantage of voter discontent. The Florida Tea Party is fielding three congressional candidates across Florida in the 2010 election cycle and hopes to have as many as 20 candidates running for seats in the Legislature.

Frederic ONeal, an attorney based in Orlando who was active with Ax the Tax, an anti-tax organization in Central Florida, serves as the chairman of the fledgling third party and said Friday that the state needs a fiscally conservative party.

At the state level, its hard to call the Democrats the tax and spend party since the Republicans have been worse, said ONeal.

ONeal said that he had been in discussions with anti-tax activists as early as 2006 and thought about launching a T.E.A. (taxed enough already) Party at that time. He said with the emergence of the national tea party phenomenon, the time was ripe to try again.

ONeal said the Florida Tea Party was different than the myriad of third parties pushing for smaller government and lower taxes.

Were focused on just the size and scope of government and taxes, said ONeal. Were not a conservative party in the sense of social issues. He added that this makes the Florida Tea Party different than the religious conservative Constitution Party or Americas Independent Party, which was founded by Dr. Alan Keyes.

ONeal pointed to his partys principles and said that Florida Tea Party candidates could develop their own positions on social issues and foreign policy as long as they backed the partys stance on smaller government and lower taxes.

The Florida Tea Party is already running three congressional candidates. Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson is running for the seat that U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam is vacating to run for state agriculture and consumer services commissioner. Peg Dunmire, an IT consultant from Orlando, is running against U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. Roly Arrojo, a businessman, is running for the seat that U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is vacating to run for a neighboring congressional seat. Ron Taylor is running on the Tea Party line for Broward County Commission.

ONeal said that the Florida Tea Party was vetting 40 people who were considering running for the Legislature and that he expected between 12 and 20 candidates running for the Senate or the House.

While third party candidates have not generally done well in Floridas political history -- with the exception of Sidney Catts being elected governor in 1916 on the Prohibition Party line -- this year has seen prominent politicians, including Gov. Charlie Crist and Bud Chiles, run as independents against the Republicans and Democrats.

Despite this history, ONeal was confident the party would have an impact. Right now the mood of the electorate is to throw the bums out and go for the alternative, he said.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859

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