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The Lauderdale Beach Republican Club had a problem: There was a Democrat in the house.
Or in the resort, to be specific. The Clarion Beach Resort in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Club founder Bob Wolfe invited Sun-Sentinel political reporter Buddy Nevins to address the flock at its monthly meeting on February 6 at Damon's Grill, a restaurant in the resort. But other club leaders balked. Nevins was a Democrat, they claimed, and GOP bylaws forbid anybody but Republicans from speaking at their meetings.
To make things kosher, Wolfe decided not to officially start the meeting until Nevins had finished speaking. After 30 minutes of idle chat, hors d'oeuvres, and cocktails, Nevins walked up to the little podium at Damon's Grill. Then he made several remarks that should end his career as a political reporter.
First, he held up a piece of paper to the 40-or-so attendees in the room and told them it was from the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office. He had changed political parties.
"I'm a Republican," Nevins announced to the partisan crowd. "It's official."
An uncomfortable, slightly stunned silence filled the room before Margaret Hostetter, a former congressional candidate and current vice president of the Davie's GOP club, stood up and began applauding. Others followed Hostetter's lead until Nevins was awash in cheers and a standing ovation.
Nevins' announcement by itself was a highly questionable act by a supposedly unbiased reporter. Unprofessional and reckless are two words to describe it. But Nevins, a longtime player in the political scene who began his reporting career in South Florida 31 years ago at the old Fort Lauderdale News, was just getting warmed up. Several witnesses tell me that when a club member asked him why he left the Democratic Party, he responded, "To vote for Charlie Crist in the Republican primary."
OK, hold up. Nevins covers the governor's race. Now he has endorsed a candidate and proven he's no buddy to Republican challenger Tom Gallagher or the Democratic hopefuls.
And he still wasn't finished. As he stood up there basking in the glow of his new political brethren, he began trashing the Democratic Party, says Hostetter, who took notes during Nevins' talk.
"He said that the Democratic Party isn't his grandfather's party," says Hostetter, a massively active Republican activist. "He said it was the party of 'no.' No ideas. No leadership. Just more taxes. And he said that Broward County is bought and controlled by the Democratic Party and its corruption."
He also took aim at his own newspaper, telling the small crowd that the Sentinel has a liberal bias. "He said there were a bunch of gays working there, and that's where the liberal slant came from, I guess is what he inferred," says Jack Majeski, a gay Republican and longtime official in the Log Cabin Republicans who was in attendance.
I asked Majeski if he was offended by Nevins' words.
"Not really I've heard too much of that through the years, being a gay Republican," he answered. "I let that kind of thing go like water off a duck's back. But it did blow my mind when he showed us his registration paper. Wonders will never cease."
Bruce Hallock, vice president of the club, recalled Nevins' comments about gays in the newsroom as well.
"He brought it up; he said that, yes, there are probably more homosexuals in the newsroom than not; maybe it is because the business attracts homosexuals," Hallock remembers. "There happens to be at the Sun-Sentinel a larger-than-general number of homosexuals in the newsroom. And they have a very particular bias and a very outspoken bias."
Hostetter says the writer also told the crowd that he was "ostracized" by gay Sentinelreporters back in 2002 after he took a stand in his Saturday column against a Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) school program.
Mind you, there was no recording of the meeting. But after talking with these witnesses, it seems clear that Nevins has a hang-up about gays in his newsroom. Was he gay-bashing? No. Was he hate-mongering? Absolutely not. Was he stereotyping gays and lesbians? Sure.
And it would all be fine if Nevins were strictly a columnist. George Will can make comments like that all he wants. But real political reporters, like Nevins is supposed to be, would be run right out of the business in a minute if they made a similar speech.
"Beyond anything he said about [gay issues], I find it amazing that a political reporter would reveal himself so publicly and take sides," says Steve Rothaus, a Miami Herald reporter and NLGJ board member. "If what is being reported is true, it sounds to me like Buddy doesn't intend to be the Sun-Sentinel political writer much longer. He seems to be beyond caring about his job."
Scott Travis, a gay Sentinel reporter who works in Palm Beach County, says he hasn't made a judgment about Nevins' comments because he's not sure what to believe. "If it's true, it's outrageous," he says.