ROSEMARY BEACH, FL - The abrupt resignation of President Bush's top adviser and long-time mentor, Karl Rove, in August 2007 raised many eyebrows inside the beltway and as many questions. Rove had been a fixture in the political life of George W. Bush for decades and had weathered innumerable political scandals.
Rove was tight-lipped at the time of his resignation about his reasons for leaving the White House, telling reporters simply that it was “to start thinking about the next chapter in our family's life.”
Whatever the next chapter of Rove's life has in store, some of the action will probably take place in Rosemary Beach, Florida, where he bought land in 2002.
A $165,000 lot becomes a $1 million home
According to political journalist Jim Moore, many factors probably influenced the timing of Rove's resignation--including the desire to cash in on lucrative speaker's fees and the prospect of reinventing himself as a political pundit on the national stage.
"Ultimately, though, what probably appeals to Karl the most is being a sort of freelance Dr. Evil," Moore -- a Rove critic -- explained in an email to RAW STORY. "He can do his work now for hire under the guise of any organization that wants to hire him or he can do it for fun and generally avoid the restraint of party or candidate. Have darkness. Will travel."
Rosemary Beach, Florida bills itself as a vacation community, but Rove's home is no beach bungalow. His Dill Lane pad is a 2,578-square-foot cedar and white stucco structure with a stoop, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, and an outdoor shower. Opposite the main house, separated by a small walled courtyard, is a two-story carriage house with a two-car garage on the ground floor.
The stoop outside Rove's Rosemary Beach home.
The setting is equally upscale. Rosemary Beach is a 107-acre development along a stretch of County Road 30A, between Destin and Panama City, Florida. The centrally planned community bills itself as a town. In fact it's an exclusive real estate development in an unincorporated part of Walton County--although the developers have erected a "Town Hall."
All homes and businesses in Rosemary Beach are designed and laid out according to a master Town Plan. Marketing materials describe the architecture as "Pan-Caribbean."
"Residents of Rosemary Beach are lucky to not only live and work here, but also to have the opportunity to play here. When work is finished and the rest of the errands can wait, Rosemary Beach is the perfect location for a vacation," the official website proclaims.
RAW STORY spotted Rove in Rosemary Beach in February on two occasions. During our trip, the house looked lived in--bikes cluttered the stoop and cloth cushions graced outdoor furniture.
Rove has been easing his way into the small community of Rosemary Beach for some time. According to public documents, Rove and his wife Darby, a graphic designer, purchased an empty lot from the Rosemary Beach Land Co. for $165,000 in November 2002. Three months later, they paid off the mortgage in full. A house would not be built on the Dill Lane property for another two years.
In early 2004 the Roves took out a $412,000 construction loan, and by August, the house was finally built.
Today, Walton County tax assessors value the home at $866,403. Rove's Public Financial Disclosure Report, filed with the Office of Government Ethics, estimates the value of the home at over $1 million. Rove's mortgage is somewhere between $250,001 and $500,000, according to the same report. (That's a 7-year mortgage from Wells Fargo at 4.625% interest.)
An octagonal bird bath in Rove's courtyard.
Rosemary Beach is one of a string of planned communities along Florida's northwest panhandle that cater to elites from Alabama and Georgia as well as Florida. Nearby Seaside even has its own think tank, the Seaside Institute, dedicated to the study principles of New Urbanism.
Once known as the "Redneck Riviera," this strip of land along the Gulf of Mexico has been rebranded as "Florida's Emerald Coast." Politicians and civic leaders from Alabama, Florida, and Georgia now flock to its white sandy beaches.
Although the home appears to have been initially purchased as vacation property, Rove seems to be spending an increasing amount of time there, leading some to speculate that the Dill Lane home is the controversial political advisor’s new base of operations. Rove still owns a home in DC and two small cottages in Ingram, Texas, according to public records. Interestingly, he does not claim a homestead property tax deduction on any of these properties--which he would be entitled to do if he were to claim one of these as his primary residence. Rove is registered to vote in Kerr County, Texas.
Rove has deep roots in Alabama. In 1994 the Business Council of Alabama hired Rove as a consultant for a judicial campaign. Rove worked alongside Republican activist/lobbyist Bill Canary, now the CEO of the Business Counsel of Alabama, to help deliver Alabama's Supreme Court to the Republicans. In 1998 Rove advised William Pryor in his successful bid for Alabama Attorney General. It was Pryor who would go on to seal the ballots for Baldwin County that would give Bob Riley the margin of victory in his bid to unseat Democratic Governor Don Siegelman.
Siegelman, who was jailed for bribery after a widely criticized political prosecution, was granted bond Thursday and is supposed to be released today.
Rove's political ties to Alabama didn't end when he joined George W. Bush's administration as Deputy Chief of Staff. Rove continued to advise Alabama politicians, including Gov. Bob Riley, according to a Republican activist who recounted Rove's four-year covert involvement in a campaign to neutralize Siegelman to Raw Story in November, 2007.
For the locals, Rove’s short visits, which are becoming ever more frequent, have already left their mark. Some point to the increased media interest in the locale and the constant stream of reporters that make their way through the small town looking for information on Rove.
None would give his or her name for the record. One waitress who works at Bud & Alley’s restaurant downtown, said she's seen Rove and his guests sequestered in the large downstairs area of the popular eatery. Saying she was happy not to have been his server, she quipped, “I would have told him what I thought of him and gotten fired.”
Rove has himself left his mark with the local police. In September of 2007 he was caught speeding in a posted municipal zone. According to Walton County public records, his fine was $83 dollars, which he paid in full, and promptly.