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Florida GOP Chair Dave Bitner Stepping Down

TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) - After receiving the devastating diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's disease, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Dave Bitner said Wednesday he was stepping down from his post.

Bitner's resignation will take effect Sept. 23 during the high-profile Presidency 5 event in Orlando that will feature a Fox News debate among Republican presidential candidates as well as a straw poll among party activists.

Bitner, a former state legislator from southwest Florida, was chosen as the new party chairman last January. But he found out in April that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. It progressively attacks the brain and spine and leads to complete paralysis. It is incurable and fatal.

At the time, Bitner vowed to carry out his duties as long as he could. But he said in a letter Wednesday to more than 250 Republican Party officials that he had decided to resign.

"Whether out of malice or in the interest of political posturing, some who had been entrusted with my thoughts about the future shared that information with the media," Bitner wrote. "Something I would never allow to happen on my watch is for the future of the RPOF to be called into question. So, today after talking with my wife, my friends and trusted advisors, I have decided to resign."

Bitner said he and wife would now "look to God for his grace and wisdom as we write my life's next chapter."

State Sen. John Thrasher, who was party chairman before Bitner took over, said he was saddened by the news.

"I was delighted when he became chairman of the party for a lot of reasons, I was happy his leadership would be there," said Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith -- who has clashed recently over redistricting with Republicans -- called Bitner a "talented and able spokesman on behalf of his party."

Florida is expected to be a battleground state next year for the presidency. Republicans hope that they can take back the state that went for President Barack Obama four years ago. The 2012 National Republican Convention will be held in Tampa.

Bitner wants current vice chairman Lenny Curry, from Duval County, to lead the party during the upcoming critical election year. He said that there is no need to have divisive infighting in finding a successor and he wants the party to pick Curry at its meeting next month.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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