The past year has not been kind to Jim Greer.
The former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida has in recent months been slammed by party donors for overspending, pushed out of the position he had been appointed to by Gov. Charlie Crist, and indicted for fraud and grand theft over allegations he and his top aide formed a secret company to profit from party fundraising.
But outside of Florida, where the serial scandals of the state GOP aren’t fodder for the headlines, Greer’s claim to fame is a statement he made last September, as President Barack Obama prepared to give a back-to-school address to the nation’s school children, to which Greer said this:
As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run health care, banks and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other president, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.
Jim Greer’s dire warning set off a frenzy of complaints in school districts in Florida and around the country, as some parents demanded the speech not be shown. After a torrent of criticism — and derision — Greer backed down, claiming the White House had made “changes” to the address and he planned to let his children watch.
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At the time, Greer was struggling to hold onto power amid increasing party anger over his lavish spending, and his seeming endorsement of Crist for the U.S. Senate versus tea party favorite Marco Rubio (whose own spending of donor money during the Greer era has brought scrutiny from the media and federal investigators.) Greer’s foray into the ideological minefield at the height of the national fight over health care reform seemed like a self-serving distraction.
A year later, Greer is in a very different place. Crist quit the GOP to run as an independent in April, the same month Greer was kicked out as party chair. He’s suing over a $124,000 severance package he says was promised to him by state GOP leaders who then reneged. He’s awaiting trial in November in a case that could blow up the Florida Republican party. And he’s walking back his statements about Obama, with a vengeance.
On Monday, as the president prepared to deliver his second back-to-school address, Greer released this statement:
In the year since I issued a prepared statement regarding President Obama speaking to the nation’s school children, I have learned a great deal about the party I so deeply loved and served. Unfortunately, I found that many within the GOP have racist views and I apologize to the president for my opposition to his speech last year and my efforts to placate the extremists who dominate our party today. My children and I look forward to the president’s speech.
Greer’s repudiation of his 2009 comments, and his charges of racism, for which he has provided no detail, and no follow-up interviews, seem as self-serving as his original attack on Obama. But this is not Greer’s first foray into the issue of the Republican Party and race.Just 59,619 of Florida’s 1,445,937 black registered voters (4 percent), are Republicans. And Greer, who like Crist, was considered a moderate before discovering Obama’s apparent power to impart socialism to children via closed circuit television, had built a reputation within the party as a champion of diversity.
In December 2008 he issued a statement criticizing then-Republican National Committee chair candidate Chip Saltsman, the Tennessee party chief, for mailing out a CD of political parody songs including one called “Barack the Magic Negro” and touting the Florida party’s attempts to grow its minority ranks. Though it would seem ironic less than a year later, Greer said Republicans could only be successful if its leaders “reject racial or any other acts that divide us and instead embrace what united us as a nation.”
After abandoning his own hopes of becoming RNC chair, Greer endorsed Michael Steele, citing the African-American politician’s ability to reach “new voters.”
Greer’s attempts to diversify the party’s image were sometimes controversial.
Last June, Greer and his African-American Republican Leadership Council chairwoman, state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, invited a group of black newspaper publishers to a meeting in Orlando at which they appeared to try and trade increased coverage of Republicans for advertising dollars. Carroll, now running for lieutenant governor with controversial gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott, reportedly implied that black outlets could increase their revenue by being friendly to the GOP. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Greer said of the potential quid pro quo:
“When I hear that when we advertise, the paper will be more likely to disseminate Republican issues, am I hearing right? … I don’t understand the legitimacy of disseminating information and having a tie-in to revenue — but I get it.”
Greer could not be reached for comment.