Whig Party leader hopes to offer more options


Paul Truesdell, chairman of the Florida Whig Party, poses for a photo in his office at Truesdell Consulting Inc. on Northwest 52nd Avenue in Ocala.

Bruce Ackerman/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, January 4, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 9:19 p.m.

Not long ago Paul Truesdell had an epiphany: The number three is critical to how people, especially Americans, organize their lives.

The American flag, three colors; the U.S. government, three branches; the nation's business world, built on three groups: entrepreneurs, investors and technicians; the country's dominant religion, Christianity, worships the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"You can't have a stool without three legs. You can have four, or 10, or 12, but you don't have a stool until you have three," Truesdell, 51, said during a recent interview in his office in the Ocala International Commerce Park.

Three also is the number of viable options Truesdell would like voters to have at the polls in 2010 - and beyond. As chairman of the Florida Whig Party, he is trying to build that alternative to the Republicans and Democrats from the ground up.

"I want to represent the guy who is not really a Republican or a Democrat. I want to attract everybody - RINOs and DINOs (which stands for Republicans or Democrats in name only) - people who do not put party first."

In December 2008, Truesdell severed his lifelong relationship with the Republican Party and a month later joined the Florida Whigs, whose roots are attached to a political entity with an ancient pedigree but who have almost no presence in the state - and who have had none to speak of anywhere in the country since before the Civil War.

Truesdell, who was the Republican candidate for Marion County sheriff in 2008, a race he lost handily to incumbent Sheriff Ed Dean, a Democrat, opted for the Whigs after his simmering contempt of the GOP boiled over.

His defection resulted from a "long, slow progression of the disgust I felt that the party has turned into a 'corporatocracy,' " he said.

"It was also the promises made, and the promises not kept, by the Bush administration," Truesdell added, citing the explosion of the national debt - which doubled while George W. Bush was in the White House.

Democrats have not exactly warmed his cockles, either. Truesdell said he held high hopes for President Barack Obama and his message of change. But he is disappointed that the "insane" national debt continues to mount.

Moreover, he laments that both parties have become more like businesses than political groups that stand up for people's concerns.

"Who represents the people who work in this country? The regular guy or gal - who represents them anymore? The Republicans and the Democrats don't," he said.

Truesdell said he was elevated to the party's top slot after getting a call from Jeremy McShurley, who founded the Florida Whigs in 2007 and cleared the legal hurdles to get the party on the state ballot.

The party's by-laws allowed for officers to be replaced if there was a vacancy, and in January 2009, the executive committee resigned and voted to replace its officers with the current executive committee, McShurley said in an e-mail.

"I felt that someone in Florida should be running the party," said McShurley, who now lives in Indiana. "Paul had contacted me about joining in late 2008, and we had several conversations. It was through these conversations that I realized I had found a good replacement for the board's leadership in Paul and his group."

Truesdell said he initially declined, but after being encouraged by his wife, Kellean, he agreed to take the post.

Truesdell characterized the Whigs as a "college dorm party" that had to be better organized. He said he has spent much of 2009 laying the foundation for the Whigs' future.

Truesdell, who is not paid in his role as party chairman, essentially wrote the party's platform, answers inquiries from voters and potential candidates about the party, and is planning a statewide barnstorming tour in 2010 to promote the party and its positions.

The board includes Henry DeGeneste, who served as chairman of Truesdell's campaign for sheriff, as vice chairman; Truesdell's wife, Kellean, serves as secretary; Julie Bolduc, one of his employees, is the party treasurer; and his 16-year-old son runs the Web site. Jason Rogoski, who lives in Hernando County, is the party's chief information officer.

"I think people are really, really ready for a change," Truesdell said. "The tea baggers are on to something, but they lack clarity of purpose. My goal is for the Whigs to grow and become that broad, mutually tolerant third part of the system that walks the middle of the road."

The evidence is clear that Florida voters have grown increasingly disenchanted with the two-party "duopoly," as Truesdell calls it.

In 1994, according to state data, just 8.6 percent of the state's 6.6 million registered voters were something other than Republican or Democrat.

But just two years later, that figure had leaped to 13 percent statewide. It has risen steadily both around the state ever since.

By November 2008, the most recent state numbers available, 22 percent of Florida's 11.2 million registered voters were either members of minor parties or claimed no party.

Over the last 15 years, the number of registered political parties in Florida has more than tripled, from 11 in 1994 to 35 today.

Truesdell thinks the time is ripe for a third party to capitalize on this visible discontent.

He said he was drawn to the Whigs, instead of some other minor party, because of its historical lineage.

The party's roots stretch back to 17th century England where, in the years after the English Civil War, they championed the supremacy of Parliament and constitutional limits on the monarch.

Although the Whigs' inherent apprehension of centralized authority led many of the Founding Fathers to adhere to the party's philosophy, the Whigs did not become a formal political party in the United States until 1833.

That came as a backlash to the strong rule of President Andrew Jackson. The Whigs then emerged as the alternative to Jackson's Democrats, even electing two presidents, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, and boasting a third when Millard Fillmore, Taylor's vice president, took over after Taylor died in office in 1850. A young Abraham Lincoln was also a Whig.

The party imploded in 1856 amid internal strife over slavery, and many of its followers created the Republican Party soon thereafter.

Truesdell worries that the red state-blue state divide threatens to tear the country apart.

To prevent that, there must be a third option, he said, and he believes he can sell one based on moderation and tolerance to a majority of voters.

One observer is not so sure.

"While there is often disillusionment with the two-party 'duopoly,' the structural disadvantage facing third parties is usually enough to dissuade voters from supporting a sure loser at the polls," said Dan Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida.

Truesdell thinks the failing of most minor parties is a tendency to zero in on one issue that is usually quirky and has limited, if any, appeal to most voters.

He said the Florida Whigs - the only group with state-sanctioned ballot access among the Whig affiliates in 31 states - can overcome that flaw with a coherent, wide-ranging platform that plucks elements important to moderate Democrats and Republicans.

But it's an uphill climb. As of November 2008, the Florida Whigs had 59 members.

Yet Truesdell said he gets calls every day inquiring about the party, including 28 from people who have expressed an interest in running for office as Whigs.

So far, the party will have three congressional candidates in 2010: John Annarumma, who lives near Gainesville and has filed to run against Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown in the 3rd Congressional District, which spans eastern Marion and Alachua counties; Paul McKain, who will take on incumbent Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Tallahassee and Panama City; and Clayton Schock, who will challenge Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the 20th Congressional District in South Florida.

Truesdell said his goals for the party for the coming year are to have 10,000 registered voters, 10 regional coalitions of Florida Whig affiliates, 10 congressional candidates and to raise $210,000.

"I realize the hurdles that we face, but somebody has to stand up and do this," Truesdell said. "And I've always liked the underdogs."

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