Florida’s New Republican Chairman Must Be Careful About Hiring Decisions

    Now that Blaise Ingoglia sits at the head of the table for Florida Republicans, he should be tactical and swift in hiring for key party positions.


    By Jacob Engels


    With the election of State Representative Blaise Ingoglia as Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida this past weekend, party operatives and consultants are reeling from his surprise victory over Governor Rick Scott and Andy Gardiner’s favored candidate, Leslie Jennings Dougher. After besting Dougher in the first round by one vote, Ingoglia was able to secure the support of former State Representative Kurt Kelly and Martin County Committeeman/perennial candidate Eric Miller to win overwhelmingly on the second ballot.


    Former Executive Director Justin Johnson resigned within hours of the final vote and the Senate Majority moved out of the George Bush Republican Center and withdrew over $800,000 from the state party accounts and transferred it to Senate President Andy Gardiner’s Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.


    Ingoglia then issued a decree that froze all current spending, vendor contracts and secured the George Bush Republican Center where the RPOF HQ is located – not allowing anyone to enter without approval from the new Chairman. As the dust settled Saturday night, it was revealed by Florida Politics that former Executive Director of the RPOF and lauded GOP consultant David Johnson was selected to lead Ingoglia’s transition team.


    Johnson most recently propelled Carlos Curbelo to victory for a South Florida congressional seat and has longstanding relationships with Senate President Andy Gardiner, Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Holly Raschein.


    Former Charlie Crist campaign staffer Pablo Diaz was also tapped for the transition team. Diaz, who just successfully lead Attorney General Pam Bondi to a second term is a former high ranking staffer of the National Federation of Independent Business and one-time Deputy Executive Director of the RPOF.


    Now that we are all caught up on what has happened so far following Ingoglia’s successful election, it’s time to examine who are the top contenders for the Executive Director & Deputy Executive Director, Communications Director and Political Director positions that Ingoglia will need to fill in the next week.


    Mr. Ingoglia wears the crown, and now he must demonstrate his ability to surround himself with talented, capable individuals.


    Executive & Deputy Executive Director 


    Mike Shirley – Mr. Shirley served as the Central Florida Field Director for the Rick Scott for Governor campaign in 2010 and then as a Regional Field Director for Scott’s man-crush, Texas Governor Rick Perry’s presidential campaign. He is someone who is a well-respected and familiar face in Scott World, but also close to Ingoglia’ s inner circle – meaning he could work to restore the confidence between Rick Scott and the new chairman.


    Shirley also has statewide leadership experience, having been selected to be the RNC’s Statewide Director in Alaska and as the State Director for the NRA in the presidential battleground state of Iowa. Insiders tell me that Shirley was also part of the Rubio campaign’s power structure in the very important I-4 corridor.


    With Mr. Shirley at the helm, the state GOP has a good shot at getting back on good terms with the Governor and Senate Republicans.


    Kevin Cleary – Mr. Cleary is now a top consultant with Andy Palmer’s Tallahassee 96 Consulting Firm, which specializes in digital and direct mail. Cleary served as the Northeast Florida Field Director for the RPOF from 2008 to 2010.


    He then successfully lead Ben Albritton’s 2010 campaign for State House and was appointed as the Florida Congressional Campaigns Director for the RPOF in 2012. Cleary now works as the Legislative Aide for Representative Albritton. Mr. Cleary is affable, and has already worked through two different state party chairman and has a solid report with Jefferson Street power-brokers.


    Carolyn Johnson – I first met Ms. Johnson in when I was statewide Chairman of the Florida Federation of TeenAge Republicans and was immediately impressed with her management skills. Johnson, a longtime top ally and District Secretary for Former State Representative Chris Dorworth, was an effective organizer and leader for the Florida Young Republicans.


    Recently, she has served as a legislative aide and Assistant Campaign manager for a statewide ballot amendment. In 2013, she was appointed as Director of Business & Economic Development for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, a role Johnson has held for the past two years.


    Johnson’s gig with the Florida Chamber of Commerce would be hard for her to leave, considering the hefty monthly retainer and access she has to industry and business leaders. However, a good fit nonetheless.


    Communications Director


    Dan Dawson – Does anyone have better hair in Florida politics? Mr. Dawson is easily the most hipster Republican operative in Florida. He dresses like Ryan Gosling and knows how to communicate the message. Incoming Chairman Blaise Ingoglia has long said that the Republican Party’s message is not the problem, it’s the communication of that message.


    That’s where Dawson comes in. Cutting his teeth in Field Ops for the RPOF in 2008 & 2009, Dawson went on to be Jeff Atwater’s travel aide and New Media Director – where he was lauded for his digital media efforts for the Chief Financial Officer’s campaign. Atwater would go on to win and Dawson would be appointed to lead the war room for presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.


    He would parlay that into securing a job as Director of New Media of the RPOF and as Press Secretary for the Florida Senate. Dawson has the experience to handle communications for the party statewide, but more importantly, the knowledge of how to market the GOP’s message to millenials.


    Dawson can easily quote Bright Eyes lyrics, knows craft beer better than Rush Limbaugh knows cigars and would pair nicely with Ingoglia, who has a record of embracing social media. He recently opened up his own consulting firm after a solid stint as Communications Director for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. If Dawson wants back in the game, the RPOF could do no better than Dawson…


    Honorable Mention – Rebecca McLaughlin – Field Director for Americans for Prosperity, Treasurer of the Florida College Republicans and District Secretary for State Representative Eric Eisnaugle. A little green, but I have no doubt she could excel with a little guidance in a statewide role.


    Political Director


    Alex Melendez – Mr. Melendez might not yet be 30 years old, but his resume would put most politicos 40+ to shame. Earning his keep as an intern on the McCain/Palin campaign in 2008, he would go on to serve as an intern in the Executive Office of Governor Charlie Crist – managing the marketing and communications for Florida’s film incentives program.


    In 2009, he was appointed as the Special Assistant to then Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp and then as Tampa Bay Regional Field Director for Rick Scott’s campaign in 2010. Over the next three years, he would be Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida Department of Corrections, a Regional Field Director for Virginia Republican Party, and most recently as Deputy Campaign Manager for the first top-tier Gay GOP Congressional candidate, Carl DeMaio in California.


    If the statewide GOP wants him, they will have to get him to come back across the pond, as he his currently managing a campaign for Parliament in the UK. With his deep connections across the state, in both bureaucratic and political circles, Mr. Melendez is a serious contender.


    Honorable Mention – Billy Schmidt – Former Tampa Bay Regional Field Director for the RPOF, Supervisor in the Florida Department of Professional and Business Regulation and now a top investigator for the agency. He’s got an eye for nonsense, and enough of a political background and connections to make a go of it.



    Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at info@eastorlandopost.com