BEHIND THE HEADLINES

Horn charting course for GOP


Travis Horn, chairman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee, poses May 7 at the Alachua County Republican Campaign Headquarters, 1212 N. Main Street, in the Gainesville Shopping Center.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 12:37 a.m.
Travis Horn is an imposingly husky 6-foot-3 with an opinion on just about anything and no hesitation to express it.
He has the gung-hoism of a military man, which he was but didn't entirely like; the proselytizing of a preacher, which he never has been and doesn't intend to be; and the zealousness of a ideologue, which he certainly is.
Those traits helped get Horn his current position as chairman of Alachua County's Republican Executive Committee. They have also helped get him in some trouble.
An insurgency is going on inside the party over Horn's leadership style, tactics and the use of Republican money to support a Democratic candidate in Gainesville's recent mayoral race.
And a complaint of election law violations against Horn has been filed by a campaign watchdog.
Horn has the smoothness of a politician he despises but can do a dead-on imitation of - former President Bill Clinton - so it is difficult to tell if any of the trouble fazes him, but he says it doesn't.
"I feel like my ideas are best and I want to see them come to fruition. There are some really great and loyal supporters who want to advance the goals of the party and there are some folks that I don't see eye to eye with. Frankly, I'm charting a course that I think is right," Horn said.
"I'm certainly not mealy-mouthed, that's for sure. I'm not known for mincing words and sometimes I'm not as diplomatic and I probably ought to be. I guess when you are from the South you just don't mince words."
Some dissension Don Marsh, a window cleaner who ran for the Alachua County Commission two years ago, would have liked Horn to mince a few words now and then. Marsh is a former member of the Republican Executive Committee who recently resigned.
Horn, Marsh said, played a huge role in his decision to leave the committee.
"I had helped him get elected as chairman to begin with. I had wanted to see a little more aggressive and activist leadership. I just had no idea what we were getting into. I've apologized to a lot of people," Marsh said. "I cannot conceive of working with him. He's an autocrat. He spends money on things without informing all of the committee. If you ever think about standing up to him, he just gets really ugly about it."
Horn was born and raised in Orlando. Horn said his parents, Jimmy and Barbara, were Virginia natives who moved to Florida with $35 and managed to provide for their family without ever seeking government assistance.
Early influences The spark in Horn's politicism came early. Horn said he read a lot as a youngster - Civil War books were a favorite. So was a biography of Nathan Hale, the colonial patriot who said "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" at his hanging.
But by the time Horn reached Osceola High School he was as interested in partying as he was reading. Drinking and fighting were not uncommon. Horn joined the Army just 11 days after high school graduation.
"I got off the bus and knew I made a mistake. I had four years and 16 weeks of enlistment to ponder my mistake. You get off the bus and people are screaming at you. It's just a different way of life," Horn said. "I wanted to defend my family. I wanted to represent my country. I think that growing up in the South, we have more of a martial spirit. I just wanted to do my duty - God, country and all that stuff. What I didn't realize is that Rambo stayed out there 24/7. Rambo got cold. Rambo got hungry. Rambo wanted to take a bath. But those Army commercials during football season looked awfully cool - jumping out of planes, blowing stuff up."
Horn ended up as an 82nd Airborne infantryman who spent time in Europe and Southeast Asia. When Horn left the Army he started college and immediately got involved in politics.
Influencing Horn's politics was the example set by his parents of spurning government assistance and his experience in the Army, citing differences in the way former presidents Bush and Clinton dealt with the military.
Gaining experience The Alachua County Republican Party drew Horn's interest when he came to Gainesville in 1999 to complete a bachelor's degree in political science at the University of Florida.
Once he had that degree, Horn and his wife, Kathy, moved to Virginia so she could finish her master's degree in occupational therapy. Then it was back to Gainesville so Horn could start UF law school, from which he plans to graduate later this year or early next.
Horn was elected chairman of the local Republican Party in 2002, defeating establishment party member Mildred Russell.
"I guess you could call it a rather contentious little election. In something like this, where only the party elites or hard-core participate, it's all personal," Horn said. "I felt led to do a good job for a reason and that is what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to do my best. I sometimes joke that we should be called the Alamo Chapter of the Republican Party."
Getting out the vote Horn said membership in the executive committee has doubled under his leadership and is now up to about 70. The committee works to draw more people into the party, works for party candidates and organizes get-out-the-vote efforts.
He said he is trying to boost the rolls of Republican voters by reaching out to the "country boys and girls here in Alachua County."
Democrats now account for 63,509 voters and Republicans 33,827.
Gainesville City Commissioner Ed Braddy believes Horn's stewardship has been a positive for the party in Alachua County.
Braddy in particular lauded Horn for inaugurating several new fund-raising and outreach efforts, including a banquet named after former President Reagan and events honoring veterans.
"I think he has brought some enthusiasm and new ideas to the local party. He has helped to attract some new people to the (executive committee) leadership, some young people, and that's good," Braddy said. "The fact that we are bringing more people in will make us more competitive in races. The bottom line is, it's all about winning.
"Travis is focused. I've heard he's rubbed some people wrong, but I think overall it has been a good experience with him and hopefully we can keep the momentum."
Recent UF graduate Jonathan McGowan is among the next generation of Republican activists who have been involved with the local party.
McGowan said Horn is the right man for the committee's leadership position.
"He is probably the most dedicated person I know for spreading the message that Republicans do exist in Alachua County and helping expand our membership. He has been very aggressive in voter registration," McGowan said. "Getting young people involved has been a very positive thing. Students tend to have more free time and can dedicate more volunteer hours. They also have a lot more energy and bring that to the organization. I think Travis is a great guy."
Facing criticism But Horn has critics.
Executive Committee member Stafford Jones and others are critical of Horn deciding - without a full vote of the committee - to use Republican money to pay for signs for Democrat C.B. Daniel in the recent Gainesville mayor race that was won by Pegeen Hanrahan.
Those signs prompted Gainesville campaign watchdog and reform advocate Susan Wright to file a complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission against Horn. She alleges that aspects of the way the signs were bought and paid for violated state law.
Meanwhile, critics of Horn also point out that the party is having difficulty getting Republicans elected under Horn's watch and that two key defections have occurred - Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson and former Gainesville Mayor Paula DeLaney. She is now running for the County Commission.
"I disagree with using the Republic committee's money to support a non-Republican candidate simply because Republicans give us that money on the understanding and expectations that we will be supporting Republican candidates. My opinion is that it is not our money to do with - willy-nilly - what we want to," Jones said. "During the term before Travis there were three, maybe four, Republicans elected. So far during Travis' term not only can we not get them elected, we can't even get them to run."
Looking ahead Horn said he plans to stay in Gainesville for the foreseeable future. Kathy Horn has a challenging job at the Veteran's Affairs Medical Center. They have a son, Thomas, age 6 months. He is named after the Civil War Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. He's also named after a distant relative, Tom Horn.
Looking ahead, Travis Horn said he not likely to change his approach.
"I come from a family that was poor. I don't want to use the phrase 'chip on my shoulder' but I felt the need to succeed - I think more than a lot of average folks felt it," he said. "I don't see myself as combative or aggressive. But when I'm pushed, I push back. I do unto others as I have them do unto me until they treat me otherwise."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top