The head of Illinois’ beleaguered Republican Party is staring down a revolt from some state party bosses after he bucked the official GOP line last week and urged state lawmakers to approve same-sex marriage.
State GOP Chairman Pat Brady faces growing calls for his resignation, at a time when some Illinois Republicans are rethinking the party’s image and stance on social issues, following a dismal showing in November’s elections.
Conservative groups and activists pounced on Brady shortly after he released a statement last week offering his “full support” of a bill before the General Assembly that would legalize same-sex marriage.
But now the public demands for his ouster are coming from party leaders themselves.
“Pat Brady is a total disgrace,” said Bobbie Peterson, a Republican state central committeewoman from Beecher, Ill.
“He’s a pretty face for TV. He can speak well. Period,” Peterson said. “But what’s coming out of his mouth is not what the Illinois Republican party is about.”
It’s unclear whether the party bosses opposing Brady have enough votes to oust him. But even those who stop short of asking for his resignation plan to take him to the woodshed for neglecting to notify party bosses before he publicly contradicted the party’s platform plank on gay marriage.
“I was shocked,” said State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a committeeman from west suburban Sugar Grove who has asked Brady to resign.“Very surprised. Did not expect that and didn’t know why he would have done that.”
Brady acknowledges he didn’t reach out to committeemen before speaking out in favor of gay marriage. But he told WBEZ his views are his own, and he spoke up while lawmakers were debating the issue in Springfield. Brady calls the same-sex marriage ban Illinois' “last condoned discrimination."
“If people want to throw me out because I took a stand on an issue of discrimination [as] the chairman of the Republican Party, the party founded by Abraham Lincoln, then that’s – that’s up to them and they’re free to do it,” Brady said. “But I’m not backing down.”
The controversy began the first week of January, as supporters of same-sex marriage anxiously awaited a key vote at the State House. Last Wednesday, Brady released the statement saying same-sex marriage “strengthens families” and “honors the best conservative principles,” and he even acknowledged he’d been lobbying fellow Republicans to vote 'yes.'
Lawmakers ultimately adjourned without taking an up-or-down vote, after momentum fizzled during the final hours of the lame duck session. But since then the backlash against Brady has only increased.
“I can only express my disappointment in the way this has come about and the manner in which the Republican platform of Illinois has been completely disregarded,” said committeeman Gene Dawson, from northwest suburban Barrington, as he read from the resignation request he emailed to Brady.
In Illinois, a party chairman can be fired with a three-fifths majority of the weighted vote from state party committeemen. Each vote is weighted differently, based on how many people cast ballots in a committeeman's congressional district in last spring’s primary. Four committeemen told WBEZ they asked Brady to resign, representing nearly half of the votes needed to boot him out. (Four others stopped short of calling for a resignation, while the remaining ten either declined to comment or didn’t respond to interview requests.)
Whatever the outcome, Brady’s timing could not have been worse, according to several party bosses. Brady chimed in just as lawmakers were trying to focus on fiscal issues, such as pension reform, instead of same-sex marriage, said State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, who sits on the Republican State Central Committee.
“His role as chairman should be to concentrate on uniting the party, and not dividing the party,” Syverson said, though he doesn't go so far as to ask Brady to step down.
The flap over Brady’s comments comes as many state Republicans are still digesting their rout in the Nov. 6 elections, when the GOP lost its majority in the Illinois congressional delegation, and Democrats won supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.
That has some politicians considering a move to the center on some social issues such as same-sex marriage, said Republican pollster Gregg Durham.
“What some voters perceive as extremism on some of the social issues certainly cost votes in November and will cost votes in the future,” Durham said, referring to young voters and suburban women, two key voting blocs. “And there’s a lot of candidates right now doing soul-searching, looking at some of these issues to say, ‘Where are we really on this stuff?’”
For his part, Brady said that’s why he chose to speak up when he did.
“We need to change the brand or the image of the party of this group of angry, old white guys,” Brady said. “And that’s what we look like right now.”
Not everyone is calling for Brady’s head. He still enjoys the backing of the state party’s highest-ranking elected official, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.
“Senator Kirk has full confidence in Pat Brady's leadership as chairman of the Illinois Republican Party and looks forward to working with him to elect Republicans in 2014,” Lance Trover, a Kirk spokesman, said in a statement.
Some deep-pocketed GOP insiders also seem to agree with Brady on the marriage issue. On Wednesday, former Exelon Corp. CEO John Rowe, a prolific campaign donor, sent a letter to the State Central Committee warning party bosses about the political fallout of opposing gay marriage.
“We cannot deal with the issues of fiscal responsibility, national security and individual self sufficiency while making so many enemies,” Rowe wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by WBEZ.
Republican State Central Committeeman Angel Garcia, from Chicago, said any calls for Brady to quit are premature.
“Any one thing that he did, whether you agree or disagree, should never be a deal-breaker,” Garcia said. “That would be like firing a head coach because he had one bad game.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that a majority of committeemen's weighted votes is needed to remove a party chairman. In fact, a three-fifths majority is required.