Bucking the position of other party organizations, the Southwest Florida Young Republicans voted Monday night to support beleaguered Dist. 19 Congressman Trey Radel.
According to a prepared statement issued by the group, 60 percent of its members support Radel, who was arrested in Washington, D.C. on a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession, remaining in office as Radel has indicated he will do.
The Young Republicans took the position that a resignation would leave the seat vacant and so "would place Southwest Florida and the Republican Party at a severe disadvantage."
The group stated that while it does not "condone Congressman Radel's actions, we do not believe that the constituents of our district should lose representation due to those actions."
It's important for the southwest Florida district to maintain its "coalition conservative vote in Congress," SWFL Young Republicans President Rickey Nelson said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Radel, who pleaded guilty and received probation, has admitted himself to a rehab facility in Naples. In an apology to constituents and family, Radel acknowledged a problem with alcoholism, which he says led to "an extremely irresponsible choice."
Radel, 37, was arrested in October after buying cocaine from an undercover officer in Washington D.C. According to reports, authorities were told by a drug dealer that they had arrested that the dealer's customers included a congressman. A sting was then set up and Radel purchased 3.5 grams, an amount referred to on the street as "an eight ball," for $260. Radel also turned over additional cocaine he had in his apartment, where he agreed to speak with arresting officers following the drug transaction, reports state.
Local Republican leaders in Lee and Collier counties, as well as Gov. Rick Scott, have called for Radel's resignation.
Radel, who was sworn into office in January, is up for re-election next year. The Young Republicans took no position on any possible re-election bid.
Chris Berardi, a former Cape Coral council member and one of three political commentators on the Paul Revere Show, a conservative internet talk show, explained that if Radel's seat were to become vacant before the end of the year, the governor would be called upon to order a special election.
Using as an example the special election timeframe following the death of Florida Rep. Bill Young, an election would probably not come until May, 2014, Berardi said.
While allowed for Senate vacancies, the U.S. Constitution precludes appointment to fill a House seat.
If Radel's seat were to come vacant after the first of the year, the seat would remain vacant until after the 2014 election cycle, leaving Southwest Florida with no representation at all.
While the District 19 office would remain open, it would be run by the House clerk and so would be prohibited from partisan activities, according to Berardi.
"No partisan duties would be allowed," Berardi said.
"The things they are allowed to do for constituents is really restricted," he added.
Berardi was asked whether he thought Radel was re-electable.
"That's a good question," he said. "I'm of the opinion that is up to the voters, as it should be."
The full text of the statement released by the Young Republicans following its vote Monday night states:
Last night, the SWFL Young Republicans met to have an open and honest discussion regarding Congressman Trey Radel. We believed that it was important for our members, many of which are new to the political process, to be able to voice their opinion on whether our congressman should be encouraged to remain in office through the remainder of his term or resign.
Following our discussion, a vote of our membership was held. The resulting vote was that sixty percent of our members supported Congressman Radel remaining in office for the balance of his term. Our members took no action on re-election, but solely on completing the current term of office.
Our members believed that the restrictions placed on constituent services combined with the lack of voting representation that would be created by a Congressional vacancy would place Southwest Florida and the Republican Party at a severe disadvantage.
A special election would be costly and take 4-6 months. Our district would then face another election shortly thereafter. Based upon this realistic assessment of the situation, we chose to support continued representation at the Congressional level . Although we do not condone Congressman Radel's actions, we do not believe that the constituents of our district should lose representation due to those actions.
- SWFL Young Republicans President Rickey Nelson