For Joe Gruters, being a dad to three small children in an asset. His opponent, it appears, thinks otherwise.
Gruters is demanding an apology after his House District 73 opponent — Lakewood Ranch Republican Steve Vernon — sent a mailer that, among other things, said Gruters’ three young children would be a distraction.
The mailer said Gruters will “have a new business, multiple political appointments and two volunteer positions of authority with the Republican Party, and is the father of three babies that will distract him from representing the district.” Gruters said he believes the mailer was sent to voters in Manatee County, which makes up about 85 percent of the district.
“I just think it’s sad and I think he should apologize,” said Gruters in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com. “At the end of the day, that’s what we’re running for. And for him to say having babies is a distraction is so off base and disqualifying.”
The House District 73 race has become increasingly nasty as the Aug. 30 primary nears. Vernon has been hitting Gruters for his connections to the Republican Party, calling him a career politician and a party boss.
Those attacks don’t bother Gruters that much. But bringing his kids — ages 4, 2 and 10 months — does.
“It’s totally out of bounds,” said Gruters. “You never want to bring family members into a political discussion.”
The mailer even got his wife — who has tried to stayed out of the political slugfest — fired up. She penned a letter to voters, calling the advertisement disgusting.
“Recently, my husband’s opponent attacked him for being a father. He said our ‘three babies will distract him from representing his district.’ No child should ever be labeled a distraction. This is disgusting,” wrote Sydney Gruters in a letter to Republican women. “Children are the greatest blessing and I feel sorry for any person that would believe otherwise.”
“I admire the families and especially the mothers that sacrifice their time to serve as public officials. They are setting an example for their children that we must all give back to the people and the communities in which we live,” she continued. “If being a father makes you unfit for public office, I can only imagine how he feels about any MOTHER that is an elected official or works outside of the home. This is an attack on all the mothers, fathers, and children.”
Gruters, a fourth-generation Sarasota resident, is well-known in Republican circles. An accountant, Gruters also serves as the co-chairman of Donald Trump’s Florida campaign and is the vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
He’s raised $135,214 toward his House District 73 race, and has more than $61,000 cash on hand.
Vernon, who served as the former Tea Party Manatee president, has raised $11,964 and loaned his campaign $90,000, according to state records. He’s spent more than $99,000, a significant portion of which went toward advertising.
In her letter to Republicans, Sydney Gruters said she was proud of the example her husband is setting for their children, and said he works hard to provide for the family.
“This is why my husband and I have decided to put ourselves out there and dedicate our time to the community. Because of our children. I hardly call that a distraction. I call it motivation,” she wrote. “For someone to label any child a distraction is truly a disgrace.”