MARCO ISLAND — The idea of a club for Marco Republicans seems redundant, said Don Farmer, standing outside CJ’s. The columnist pointed out that the island essentially is already an arm of the GOP.
But local Republicans felt the need to get organized, and as a result, Wednesday evening saw the first meeting of the Caxambas Republican Club of Southwest Florida. The informal social event was held around the outdoor bar at CJ’s on the Bay in the Esplanade, coinciding with happy hour.
There appeared to be about two dozen people on hand, but it was difficult to tell those who were just drinking and talking from those who were drinking and talking politics. When club officials spoke to the group, they struggled to be heard above the hum of conversation.
Actually, Collier County Elections Supervisor Jennifer Edwards told the group, Republicans have only a bare majority when it comes to voter registration, with 51 percent. But only 25 percent of local voters chose to register as Democrats. The island’s status as a red state redoubt is not in danger.
The genesis of the Caxambas Republican Club (CRC) occurred when she realized islanders were not being represented or heard in local GOP circles, said club president Litha S. Berger.
“I was a member of the Naples Republican club for a year and a half,” she said. “I’d go to meetings, and there would be no one there from Marco Island. It took me a year to figure out, nobody wants to drive from the island.”
So she sat down with Frank Schwerin, chairman of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee. “I told him I thought we needed a Republican club on the island, and got the information to be on the executive committee, and make an application to the Florida state Republican committee.
“We want to get people together, understand the issues, and interview candidates directly,” Berger said. One issue towers above the rest, in the mind of Berger and many of the attendees on Wednesday. “We want to make sure a Republican gets in the White House – that’s the reason,” she said. “We’re not happy with the way things have been going in Washington.”
In addition to Berger, CRC board members Jack Dehanas, treasurer, and Karen Hearn, secretary, were at CJ’s. The club’s vice president, said Berger, is out of town, like many of the club’s prospective members.
“A lot of people are up north now. I expect we’ll have around 100 people as we get closer to the season,” she said. “Yes, this island is heavily Republican.” Berger also made the point the CRC is not just for Marco Islanders.
“The Caxambas Republican Club includes Everglades City, the Isles of Capri, Goodland, and 951 up to Lely and beyond,” she said, espousing the ‘big tent’ theory of political organizing.
The upcoming 2012 presidential election was also uppermost in the mind of Hearn.
“We really need to work hard for the Republican candidate, whoever he or she may be,” she told the gathering. Sitting at the bar, Jim Gilligan (“like the island,” he said,) said he was primarily concerned with national rather than local politics, and was interested in finding a candidate. Sitting next to him, Lee Smith said he was interested in being a candidate, and considering a run for the White House himself.
The first campaign the CRC is involved in is their own, to sign up charter members, Berger told the group at Wednesday’s inaugural meeting.
“We’re in an active campaign for charter members. Charter membership will end when we reach 75 or 100, and we already have around 50. This will be our core group,” she said.
Keith Dameron signed up as a charter member, he said, with an eye on the actuarial tables.
“At $150 for a lifetime membership, versus life expectancy and $35 a year, it’s a deal,” said the banker and former insurance executive. “We’re living on an island of activists, and I’m happy to see an organization like this – like-minded people getting together.”
The CRC will hold regular social gatherings at CJ’s on the second Wednesday of each month, and business meetings at the Marco Island Historical Museum. The first of those gatherings is scheduled for October 17. For more information, call Litha Berger at (239) 642-3707.