GOP cancels meeting to oust chairman over same-sex marriage, as Kirk lobbies

March 9, 2013

After some lobbying by Illinois’ highest-ranking Republicans, GOP bosses abruptly rescheduled a special Saturday meeting where they might have fired party Chairman Pat Brady, following an embarrassing flap over his public support of same-sex marriage.

An email sent to State Central Committee members at 10:17 p.m. Friday night said the event would be rescheduled “to give the Chairman every opportunity to respond to our request that he be present in person or by telephone at this meeting.”

Brady, who said he is out of town on a pre-planned family trip, had refused to attend or call into the meeting, which might have ended in his ouster. Reached via email Saturday morning, he declined to comment publicly on the meeting’s cancellation.

The abrupt move Friday night came after a “spirited,” “animated” conference call among party bosses, said State Central Committeeman Chris Kachiroubas, of Elmhurst, who had previously called for Brady’s resignation.

“There was an argument on both sides of this – go forward, be done with it, or have an empty chair there, much like Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention,” Kachiroubas said Saturday in an interview with WBEZ. “But we didn’t wanna go that way. And we voted on the side of allowing him to make the meeting and sit in front of us.”

It’s unclear whether Brady’s detractors would have had enough votes to fire him Saturday. A handful of party bosses have said they were on the fence, and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk – who supports Brady – has been lobbying on the chairman’s behalf.

“He feels pretty strongly about this issue and has made several calls throughout the last few days,” a Kirk spokesman told WBEZ Saturday.

The infighting stems from a statement released by Brady in January, announcing his “full support” of same-sex marriage legislation in Springfield. Brady’s public stance, which contradicts a plank in the party’s platform, irked several conservative party bosses who say they never got a head’s up that he would be making the statement.

The rift reflects a national debate between socially conservative Republicans, and more moderate members of the party who say the GOP should soften its stance on issues like same-sex marriage in order to attract key voting blocs, such as young people and minorities. Some national conservative groups have vowed to take down Illinois Republicans who vote in favor of same-sex marriage legislation, while Brady’s backers say the GOP’s dirty laundry over same-sex marriage here may alienate swing voters ahead of the 2014 election cycle.

Since his announcement, Brady has enjoyed high-profile public support from Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, former Republican Govs. Jim Edgar and Jim Thompson, GOP leaders of the Illinois House and Senate, as well as national party figures.

But behind the scenes, a handful of State Central Committee members saw Brady’s same-sex marriage announcement as the “last straw” for their chairman, and began organizing to fire him, as first reported by WBEZ.

Friday’s cancellation email was signed by six of the seven State Central Committeemen who initially called the meeting last month. Notably absent from the email was State Sen. Jim Oberweis, who has been one of Brady’s most vocal opponents.

“You cannot have the chair of an organization publicly going out and lobbying in opposition to the organization’s stated goals,” Oberweis told WBEZ Thursday. “Doesn’t matter what the goal is. It would have been exactly the same result if he had lobbied in favor of Obamacare.”

Oberweis also criticized Brady for the GOP’s dismal showing in the November elections, when Republicans lost several congressional seats and Democrats won supermajorities in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly. And he faults Brady for inserting himself into a recent primary race, which party chairmen generally stay out of.

According to several party bosses, Oberweis and Committeeman Jerry Clarke of Urbana, have been the driving forces to remove Brady. While Clarke has not responded to numerous interview requests, he had worked behind the scenes for weeks to organize Saturday’s meeting, according to several committeemen who had been in contact with him.

Committeemen will now wait until their regularly scheduled meeting in April to confront Brady about same-sex marriage and other issues, including party finances, Kachiroubas said.

“I don’t know if there’ll be any repairing going forward,” he said. “I think, given the alternative, people will be beginning to think about who will come after Pat Brady.”