GOP state committee members vote to remove Chair Kristina Karamo at contested meeting

Members of the Michigan Republican State Committee voted Saturday to remove the state party chair, Kristina Karamo, saying it is time to "stop the bleeding," and a change at the top is needed to improve GOP performance in the Nov. 5 election.

Mark Forton, chairman of the Macomb County Republican Party, said he has long been a supporter of Karamo and still admires her, but he ultimately concluded she has to be removed because of the people around her. "We have an election in 2024 and up until now the state party hasn't addressed any part of it," Forton said.

But the special meeting of the state party's governing committee had already been declared null and void by Karamo and her supporters. Karamo, who took office 11 months ago, said the meeting at a hall in western Oakland County was not convened in accordance with the party's bylaws. She did not attend Saturday's session and pointed to an authorized special state committee meeting, set for Jan. 13.

State committee members, not including proxies, voted 40-5 to remove Karamo, several attendees leaving the meeting told the Free Press. They also voted to remove Dan Hartman, the general counsel who attended the meeting to speak on Karamo's behalf, and Jim Copas, the party's executive director. Malinda Pego, the state party co-chair from Muskegon County, will serve as acting chair until a new chair is selected, officials said.

But Karamo has not accepted the results and has vowed to fight them.

MIGOP chair Kristina Karamo speaks to reporters before former President Donald Trump speaks at Drake Enterprise in Clinton Township on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.
MIGOP chair Kristina Karamo speaks to reporters before former President Donald Trump speaks at Drake Enterprise in Clinton Township on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

So for now, Saturday's action signals further strife and disarray and possibly another in a long list of lawsuits in a party riven by divisions as its power has cratered in Michigan. Just before the 2018 election, the GOP controlled both chambers of the state Legislature plus the offices of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. After the 2022 election, that full control was held by Michigan Democrats.

The Republican National Committee, which could play a role by indicating whether it recognizes Saturday's meeting and voting as legitimate, did not immediately respond to questions about the meeting sent to an RNC spokeswoman.

State committee members, who listed anemic fundraising, interference in county party business, and a lack of transparency among reasons for ousting Karamo, did not allow news media inside the meeting room.

Karamo's standing appeared to dip further Saturday when the state GOP floated a plan, which faced immediate criticism, to move the selection of more party candidates away from primary elections to party caucuses.

Though it appears fundraising under Karamo has continued to deteriorate, a Free Press analysis, published at the time she was elected chair, showed the once-mighty Michigan GOP financial machine was already in serious trouble.

Karamo supporters said Saturday they learned from contacts inside the meeting that district chairs appointed proxies for state committee members who did not attend, without seeking or receiving approval from the state committee members who had their voting powers assigned to someone else.

"They are trying to hoodwink the entire state party," said Darlene Doetzel, a state committee member from Shelby Township. She said she stayed away from the meeting because she supports Karamo and believes the meeting was unlawful but learned her vote was assigned to a Karamo opponent. She then rushed to the meeting to cast her own vote for Karamo, but said she believes other state committee members had their votes assigned to others in the way her vote almost was.

Supporters of Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo protest Saturday outside of a meeting of state committee members considering Karamo's ouster. Holding signs, from left, are Melissa Pehlis, the Macomb County party secretary, and Michelle Lawler, of Brandon, who is a member of the executive committee in the 9th District. Both said Barb Zinner, the 10th District chair who is referenced in one of the signs, ignored appeals from party members to not participate in Saturday's meeting.

Tom Norton, a former Republican primary candidate for Congress in the 2nd District who is working with the Karamo opponents, said as long as a state committee member filled out a proxy form, they could choose who voted for them in their place. In cases where no proxy forms were filled out, the relevant district chair could fill those voting spots with an eligible person of their choosing, he said. No proxy form was received from Doetzel, he said.

The state committee has just over 100 members and removing Karamo requires a 75% vote. Dissidents said they believed they had that much support, but also voted Saturday to amend the party bylaws to lower the threshold for removal to 60%. Amending the party bylaws requires a two-thirds vote. In both cases, the thresholds apply to the number of voting members in attendance. The proxy votes were used to achieve a quorum for the meeting.

Dr. Philip O'Halloran, a state committee member who supports Karamo, said the party chair did not have access to donor lists, loan information, campaign finance reporting software, and other key assets when she first took office because the previous administration "took their toys and went home." Early on, she decided not to use the former party headquarters in Lansing, which is owned by a trust controlled by former party chairs. Karamo is now backing a lawsuit seeking to wrest control of the building from the trust.

The state party, for a time divided between "tea party" Republicans and mainstream conservatives, and later split between "MAGA" (Make America Great Again) adherents of Donald Trump and those who do not enthusiastically support the former president, is now mostly divided among competing MAGA factions. Karamo, who denies President Joe Biden was the lawful winner of the 2020 presidential election and has refused to concede her own 14-point defeat in the 2022 election for secretary of state, is an ardent Trump supporter. So are the most vocal leaders of the attempts to remove her, many of whom also back Trump's unsupported claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

Saturday's vote was taken on the three-year anniversary of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol in which Trump supporters attempted to stop the official count of the nation's election results showing Biden the winner. Among the indictments Trump now faces is one that accuses him of spreading lies that fueled the riot and exploiting it to further his own aims of unlawfully remaining in power. Trump is the leading GOP contender to be the 2024 presidential nominee.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: GOP committee votes to remove Kristina Karamo at contested meeting