A newly elected suburban state senator is rounding up fellow Illinois Republican officials to try to oust the chair of the beleaguered party over his support for legalizing same-sex marriage.
Sugar Grove dairy magnate and state Sen. Jim Oberweis emailed several fellow state central committeemen several days ago about organizing a special meeting to remove Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles, the Daily Herald has learned. Brady is under fire for recent statements he made supporting same-sex marriage.
According to party rules, a special meeting can be called if at least five of the 18 state central committeemen request it.
Oberweis said he emailed "six or seven" committeemen, and several expressed their support for a special meeting. Oberweis said he has yet to see "five hands go up."
Oberweis said Brady should be removed to get past this issue and added the state needs to focus on financial problems.
"All of my time is now being spent responding to emails on social issues," he said. "I don't think those are the most pressing issues we should be dealing with."
The public clash between the conservative and moderate wings of the Illinois GOP comes as the party is working to win several key upcoming elections in a traditionally blue state.
Brady, through a statement and calls to lawmakers earlier this month, voiced his full support of same-sex marriage legislation being considered by the General Assembly. Brady said he did so as a private citizen, and not in his capacity as party chairman.
Both 6th District Committeeman Chris Kachiroubas, of Elmhurst, and 8th District Committeeman Gene Dawson, of Barrington, received Oberweis's email and favor a special meeting to try to oust Brady.
"I emailed back right away, and said, 'I'm in,'" Dawson said.
"When you're an elected official you're giving up your individuality," Dawson said of Brady's statements, which are contrary to the party platform that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
In Illinois, a party chair can be ousted with a three-fifths majority weighted vote from state party committeemen. Committeemen's votes are weighted by how many voters in each congressional district cast ballots in the previous primary, giving the most politically active districts the most power.
For now, at least four committeemen are in favor of Brady's removal. Several other committeemen, as well as Demetra Demonte, the Republican Party's national committeewoman from Illinois, did not return calls seeking comment.
The next regular election for state party chairman will take place in spring 2014.
Brady said Wednesday he understands some party officials are upset with him for not speaking with committeemen about his views before he made his statements.
"It could have been rolled out better, no doubt," he said.
Brady said he has spoken to a number of committeemen in recent weeks. "I said, 'I should have talked to you before I did it.'"
Still, he doesn't regret his actions and is making no move to tone down his statements opposing the state ban on same-sex marriage.
"I did it because I feel that it is discrimination," said Brady, an attorney and former federal prosecutor. "We need to get these issues behind us and start focusing on the issues where people like our message. Like fiscal issues."
Nationally, the Republican party got a lashing at the polls in November over candidates' statements on social issues, including Missouri Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" and a suggestion by former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, of McHenry, that abortion was no longer "medically necessary" because of scientific advancements.
Some top Republican officeholders and prolific donors in Illinois say it's time for the party to change.
Former Exelon Corp. CEO John Rowe, a major donor to Republican campaigns up and down the ticket, sent a letter to the State Central Committee warning about the political fallout of opposing same-sex marriage.
"For those who believe strongly that gay marriage is forbidden in Leviticus, I say with absolute respect for both your faith and sincerity, live Leviticus by your own example, show others the mercy of the Gospels," Rowe wrote, adding that in the last election, Republicans "had the better case on economics. We had the better case on defense and foreign policy." Yet, he added, "we cannot deal with the issues of fiscal responsibility, national security and individual self sufficiency while making so many enemies."
U.S. Sen. Mark 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, Kirk's communications director, said in a statement. As a moderate 10th District congressman and now as senator, Kirk has advocated for gay rights, including being one of eight Republican senators to break with their party and vote in favor of ending the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays serving in the military. He has yet to fully endorse same-sex marriage, however.
Republican House Leader Tom Cross called a move to remove Brady "the worst thing we could do" as a party.
"It reaffirms people's worst fears about our party. I think we bragged about being the big tent party over the years. And there are going to be people that adamantly oppose gay marriage and people who support it. And we need to be the party that says, 'Hey, that's fine.'"
Various groups, including women, Latinos and young people aren't listening to Republicans, Cross said,
"In the last election, we lost Kane County, DuPage County, Lake County, Will County. And we lost almost all demographic groups," Cross said. "Old white guys aren't going to win the elections any more,"
Oberweis said he has no desire to take the reins of the state party.
"To be honest," he said, "it's a tough, thankless job."