Local GOP leader aims to grow party


Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 31, 2005 at 10:44 p.m.
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Stafford Jones is a Gainesville native and the new minority party chair.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Stafford Jones, pictured here Jan. 21 at his home in Gainesville, is the new chairman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee. Jones is moving from work behind the scenes to front the county's minority party.
Stafford Jones has for years been a behind-the-scenes man at the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee, doing organizational detail work while others took the spotlight.
That's changed now. Jones, 36, is the new chairman of the Republican Executive Committee. He will be called on to represent the party in the news media, at community forums and in schools.
But those will be the least of the demands. Jones is now chairman of the minority party - Alachua is one of the few remaining Florida counties in which Democrats are a majority on the voter rolls, and it voted for Democratic candidates in last year's presidential and senatorial races.
Growing the party is a key aim, as it is for any chairman, but so is shoring up the foundation. Jones is upbeat about both.
"One goal is to have a message. We have not had a cohesive message in the last few years that we can all go out and evangelize about," Jones said. "Another goal is for people (in the party) to realize we have a whole lot more in common than we do differences."
Jones is replacing Travis Horn, a chairman who was viewed as either a dynamo who through magnetic energy drew people, attention and money to the party; or a tornado who raced across his party's landscape leaving wreckage in his wake.
One thing is certain about Jones - he is more temperate than his predecessor, droll to Horn's dash. That may be what his party needs at this point.
"He's a good Republican. He believes in the principles of the party and wants to advance them. He has a genuine interest in growing the party's membership," said Gainesville City Commissioner Ed Braddy, who is a Republican. "He's a detail-oriented person. I think that is needed at this time. Travis was big picture with all these big ideas, but you need follow-through. You have to have someone who won't overlook an important piece of information. Stafford seems capable of keeping his eye on the ball."
Jones is a lifelong Republican. He was born and raised in Gainesville, the third generation in his family to be both Republican and from Gainesville.
Politics was always a part of his life. He remembers discussing it with granddad Stafford Caldwell, another Republican and former news graphics manager of The Gainesville Sun. He also frequently argued politics with Buddy Davis, The Sun's former editorial writer. In middle school, a mock presidential debate was held. Jones played the role of then President Reagan.
Jones attended Heritage Christian School through all but two years of high school. He graduated from Gainesville High, earned an associate degree from Santa Fe Community College and attended the University of Florida for a while before joining his father's computer consulting business.
"Me and my grandfather always had this friendly political war going on with Buddy. We all enjoyed it. I've always been a Republican, but not just because my family was. The party just reflects the values I believe in," Jones said. "I left school because I was a little too ambitious. They were teaching me things I already knew. I've always been too ambitious for my own good. Maybe ambition isn't the right word, but I was champing at the bit to get out and work."
Party message Now the company is Jones'. He designs computer networks and Web sites, including several for Republican candidates in Florida and nationally.
Jones is upgrading the Republican committee's Web site to give committee members access to more information such as the committee's financial records - a move to heighten communications and trust.
The spring, Gainesville City Commission seats will be contested in the first election for Jones as chairman. Jones said he has been forming a Republican Party message that will be spread to voters. That message will center on what Republicans believe Alachua County has gotten with Democrats as a majority. Jones cited a poverty rate that is higher than the state average, a minority business ownership rate that is lower than the state average and similar issues.
Jones said the party welcomes anyone who is interested, but believes it may appeal primarily to conservative Democrats who believe their party in general - and in Alachua County in particular - no longer represents their views.
"We want to get more Republicans elected. We want to make it easier for small businesses to exist and survive. We've got to have a core message to stand on. We have to tell people what is wrong," Jones said. "I would like to put a friendlier face on the Republican Party. I want people to see the party as the knight in shining armor to lead us to the promised land. I know that's a little hokey, but that's the imagery I can come up with."
Low-key leader While he speaks of politics in religious terms, Jones lacks the showiness of politics.
His home is free of campaign memorabilia or grip-and-grin photos of him with Republican luminaries. He doesn't have an elephant end table. He didn't go to the recent inauguration of President Bush.
Jones said spending time with his family - wife, Christie, and elementary-age children Brittany, Stephen and Jenna - is his priority. Jones said he has no hobbies, but does admit to an interest in technology.
"I would probably qualify for some as a complete and total geek, but not for others," Jones said. "My interests are really, really broad. I read Astronomy magazine and love articles like 'Relativity turns 100.' Science and technology is really cool stuff and it is what's driving the economy of the world."
Still, Jones doesn't stray from politics for long. That is obvious to subscribers to TownSquare, a subscriber e-mail ring centered on politics. Jones is a frequent contributor and the debate is often brutal.
Posting messages to TownSquare is a form of mental exercise, Jones said. It is also, he said, "a shtick" for all of the participants.
One of Jones' political foes on the group is TownSquare co-founder Harold Saive. But Saive has nothing but kind words for Jones, noting that the two volunteered to set up computers for the Boys and Girls Club and often talk about politics.
"He's very outgoing in terms of volunteering time and money to causes like that. He's an OK guy," Saive said. "He's a presence. He's very well-organized and knows his stuff. But he kind of stays below the radar."
Jones prefers not to talk about the party's recent troubles, saying he instead wants to focus on the future.
Tumultuous times But it is common knowledge in county political circles that the Republican Executive Committee was thrown into tumult under the leadership of Horn, an Army veteran and University of Florida law student.
Horn won the chairmanship with the help of young Republicans, particularly those at UF. His style was brash, and getting news media attention was a speciality.
But the more staid, establishment members of the executive committee were turned off. That was exacerbated by what they viewed as Horn's tendency to act first, explain later - if at all.
Horn's actions have earned him trouble with the state Elections Commission, which has found probable cause that he violated elections laws involving financial reports, campaign signs and campaign expenditures.
Horn has denied the errors were made willfully. The executive committee was included in the complaint.
While Horn would not speak about Jones to The Sun, Horn did say he hopes that the committee can continue to grow.
"I put a lot into the position. The committee and the chairman, in particular, get as much respect as they earn and during the past few years we earned a lot. I hope that will continue on, but that remains to be seen," Horn said. "A group needs a person who will get respect not just in the organization, but outside it as well."
Jones said he is taking steps to get the committee back on stable footing. For instance, the committee's records are being put into an accounting program so they can be reconciled monthly. Members will get summary reports.
The Republican Executive Committee board - Vice Chairman Bryan Harman, Treasurer Sally Baker and Secretary Harry Wise - is a source of confidence for Jones that current troubles will be remedied. Still, the main responsibility for reaching the party's goals lies with Jones.
"I've been in this town a long time. I know a lot of people and earned a lot of confidence from people," Jones said. "I think and hope that I have the right attitude to make it happen."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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