State GOP chairman poses dilemma for party leaders
An attempt by Republican central committee members to oust the party's chairman failed for lack of votes last weekend, but the issue may not be dead yet.
There's a touch of irony in last weekend's attempt by some members of the Illinois Republican Party's Central Committee to oust party chairman Pat Brady in a meeting that was canceled when they apparently couldn't muster enough votes.
Committee members hold a number of grievances against Brady, but he may have been saved by the one they're most upset about — at least for the moment. The committee backed off the attempt to fire Brady out of fear that ousting him because of his support for gay marriage could damage GOP efforts to appeal to more moderate voters.
Brady, fresh off the party's historic whipping in last November's election, urged Republican legislators to support a same-sex marriage bill in the Legislature early in January and earned the ire of social conservatives in the party. The measure passed the state Senate with the only Republican vote coming from Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington, and it awaits action in the House.
Brady said at the time that he was speaking as a private citizen and not in his official role of party chairman, but Brady's foes on the central committee maintained that he could not separate his personal views from his duty to uphold the GOP state platform, which opposes same-sex marriage. They mustered enough votes to call a special meeting for last Saturday in suburban Chicago that was abruptly canceled Friday night.
One of the committee members leading the effort against Brady, state Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, said committee members wanted more time to think it over and also wanted to be sure Brady could attend. Brady had said weeks ago that he would be on vacation the day of the meeting.
According to a report by the Associated Press, state Sen. Dave Syverson, a committeeman and party treasurer, said the vote would have been close, but members who had concerns about Brady separate from his gay-marriage stance "didn't want to be thrown in with those" concerned about that stance.
Oberweis said gay marriage isn't the only reason he wants Brady gone; he also blames Brady for the party's poor November election results and for working against some Republicans in primary elections.
Indeed, it's a wonder that Brady could survive as chairman given the beating that Republicans took in the November elections. Republicans in the Legislature are becoming an endangered species, declining from 54 to 47 state representatives and from 24 to 19 senators, the result of gerrymandering and Democratic strength in the Chicago area. As a result, Democrats now have veto-proof majorities in both houses. If Brady had been ousted in November, it would have been understandable.
But now Brady's situation has gotten wrapped up in the dispute between the Republican establishment and social conservatives over the future direction of the party, and it poses a dilemma for party leaders.
Both in Illinois and nationally, Republican leaders say they are working to be more inclusive and to attract younger, more moderate and ethnically diverse voters who might agree with the party's fiscal conservatism but would not agree with social conservatives on issues such as immigration and gay rights. Dumping Brady now would belie that message.
Prominent Illinois Republican leaders such as U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and state House Republican Leader Tom Cross warned that firing Brady would be a mistake, and he also had support from former Govs. Jim Edgar and Jim Thompson and state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.
But it's also a fact that politicians who take stands that oppose social conservatives often face reprisals, and Brady is not out of the woods yet, because the issue may come up again at a party meeting scheduled in April in Chicago. There could be some interesting discussions among party leaders before then.