PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA — Earlier this month, Michael Barnett’s phone rang and Governor Ron DeSantis’ chief of staff was on the other line – ready to connect him with the governor. When asked by DeSantis if he wanted a seat on the Palm Beach County Commission, Barnett accepted the job and promised the governor that he would defend the seat and run for re-election in 2024.
“Because of what the governor did, we now have a Republican majority on the Palm Beach County Commission,” Barnett tells The Florida Standard.
EARNED HIS STRIPES
A resident of Boca Raton since 1987, Barnett is an experienced attorney with Shiner Law Group. Republican executive committee members re-elected him in November to his fifth term as chair of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, and he’s now serving on the county commission.
Michael Barnett says that his faith serves as an integral part of his personal and professional life. Both Ascension Catholic Church in Boca Raton and the Knights of Columbus have been influential in keeping Barnett grounded in community service. His strong work ethic is apparent to those who know him, and he is excited to take on the challenges ahead. But he is also very clear on one thing: he will never compromise his values.
After years of volunteer work, Barnett became a committeeman on the Republican Executive Committee (REC), the governing body of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County. He later served as secretary and vice chair before his election as chairman in 2014.
Barnett says he’s “earned his stripes” with more than 30 years of engagement with political groups, beginning with student government and moving on to active roles in FAU’s College Republicans and the Boca Raton Republican Club.
IMPORTANCE OF GRASSROOTS EFFORTS
For decades – beginning with the Jeb Bush campaign in 1994 – Barnett has been instrumental in rallying Republicans as a volunteer through knocking on doors, stuffing envelopes and making calls. He believes in working to help get Republicans elected to public office without sacrificing his principles or values.
“Even as chairman of the party, my focus is still the grassroots – on the ground, doing the hard work of getting the vote out and registering voters,” Barnett tells The Florida Standard.
Beginning with the 2020 election cycle, Michael Barnett says he began seeing subtle changes with voters in Palm Beach County, something he attributes to statewide policies put in place by the governor and Republican lawmakers.
“Palm Beach County is becoming a red flag in a sea of blue,” Barnett reflected as he spoke about local news coverage describing the shift in voting patterns after the 2020 election.
FLORIDA’S RED WAVE
Historically a Democratic stronghold, Palm Beach County Republicans are still outnumbered by Democrats. Only 29 percent of the county’s registered voters are Republicans. But statistics in the Palm Beaches couldn’t stop a seismic shift in November’s general election when the top Republicans on the ballot won the county.
“It was a very pleasant surprise,” Barnett tells The Florida Standard. “It was something we didn't expect to happen this soon. We knew with our hard work – canvassing, groundwork that we had laid over the past eight years, and building up our executive committee and our volunteer base – we would get there.”
Governor Ron DeSantis beat rival Democrat Charlie Crist in Palm Beach County 51.2 percent to 48.3 percent. Republicans running statewide Cabinet races, including Ashley Moody, Jimmy Patronis, and Wilton Simpson, also carried the county.
“Ron DeSantis created a very favorable political climate through his policies that allowed for a red wave to wash over Florida,” Barnett said. “We were ready in Palm Beach County to ride that wave.”
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Barnett says GOP volunteers in Palm Beach County worked hard to connect with both independent voters and Democrats during the campaign. “We were able to swing a huge number of independents and a good number of Democrats over to our side largely due to the Governor’s amazing policies and what he did over the past four years.”
Dividing tasks with regional directors throughout the county gave the committee immediate results, especially at the north end of the county in Jupiter, Tequesta, and North Palm Beach. “We were able to help get three Republicans elected to the city council in Jupiter, flipping it to an entirely Republican city council.”
At the south end of the county, Barnett said they were able to “target efforts regionally instead of trying to run everything county-wide,” resulting in the election of two new county commissioners and a new representative to Florida’s legislature using the regional strategy.
Republicans also won the Palm Beach County portions of the congressional and state senate districts that cross into Broward County. Ultimately, those districts went to Democrats due to the voters in Broward County, “but we won Palm Beach County,” Barnett said. “We did our job in Palm Beach County.”
Barnett says the success isn’t only due to his efforts as chairman. “It's not just me, I’m just the head of the organization. We were able to put really great leaders in place who made it happen. Everything came together and we saw Republicans turn out to vote.”
A REPUBLICAN MAJORITY
Prior to the November election, the Palm Beach County Commission had a 6–1 Democratic majority. Two seats flipped red in the general election and the appointment of Barnett now gives the Commission a 4–3 Republican majority.
To focus on his role as a Palm Beach County Commissioner, Barnett says he is taking a break from day-to-day legal cases, although he still remains a part of his law firm. His focus now is to listen to constituents on issues such as urgent housing needs and protecting the county’s agricultural preserve, including farmers. But he also wants to ensure that residents are not overly burdened by taxes.
“I'm very grateful to Governor DeSantis,” Barnett said the evening of his appointment. “It’s exciting, overwhelming, humbling. I just want to do the very best job I can in this role.”
Although Barnett will seek re-election to the Palm Beach County Commission in 2024, he said this would likely be his last year as Chairman of the Republican Party. But Republicans plan to improve the campaign process further and do the same thing again for the next big red wave – one that Barnett hopes Governor Ron DeSantis will lead Republicans to again – regardless of who is at the top of the ticket.