Pete Hoekstra, elected to replace Kristina Karamo in Michigan Republican Party fight

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LANSING —The newly elected — but disputed — chair of the Michigan Republican Party says he's not interested in relitigating the results of the 2020 presidential election. His energies are focused on next November, with a sense of urgency, he says.

Pete Hoekstra
Pete Hoekstra

Pete Hoekstra's remarks mark a significant difference in tone and content from those of Kristina Karamo, who was elected the chair of the Michigan Republican Party at a state convention last February and says Hoekstra's election by state committee members at a meeting held Saturday in Lansing was unlawful.

"We are just past the third anniversary of Joe Biden's inauguration into the presidency," Hoekstra, a former GOP congressman from west Michigan who was former President Donald Trump's ambassador to the Netherlands, said in a Monday phone interview with the Free Press.

"Somehow, I don't think we're going to be able to overturn the 2020 election, if it hasn't happened already," he said. "There's not even a constitutional provision as to how to make that happen, other than impeachment."

Instead, Hoekstra said he is focusing his urgent energy on November and party unity, because "we have to do in about eight months what normally a party will do in a year and a half in terms of raising money, putting in place the infrastructure, getting vendors, putting all the operational aspects into a campaign."

Karamo is criticized for lackluster funding, among other issues. She counters that her opponents, and the state party administration that preceded her, belong to a "uniparty" that works against conservative interests.

Hoekstra said he has already had talks with the trust composed of past state party chairs that owns the former state party headquarters in Lansing that Karamo closed and he hopes to reopen it soon.

Karamo and her backers say state party bylaws were not followed when her opponents on the Michigan Republican State Committee voted to remove her on Jan. 6. She and her administration still control the state party website, and, more importantly, its bank accounts. At a Jan. 13 meeting, a separate contingent of state committee members gave Karamo's leadership a resounding endorsement.

Hoekstra said there is no way currently to make a political donation to the Michigan Republican Party that will go to support his work, since checks written to that entity can only be cashed by the Karamo administration. He said he was on the way to a meeting in Grand Rapids Monday to discuss whether there is any lawful workaround related to donations.

Party members who oppose Karamo filed a lawsuit Friday in Kent County Circuit Court, seeking a judge's declaration that her ouster was lawful.

But Hoekstra said he believes and hopes the Republican National Committee will settle the issue before it works its way through the judicial system. If the RNC says he is the lawful chair, the courts will likely accept that, since the state party is a private organization, he said.

"The RNC has to rule on this in terms of who exactly they are going to recognize," Hoekstra said.

As of late Monday afternoon, the RNC still showed Karamo as the Michigan chair representative on the committee.

He said he has not spoken about the issue with Ronna McDaniel, the Michigan resident who chairs the RNC, but has had discussions with Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dr. Rob Steele.

Steele told the Free Press he expects the RNC to outline a process — possibly early this week and ahead of its meetings in Las Vegas next week — for determining who will fill the seat of the Michigan GOP chair on the national committee. But that doesn’t automatically legally settle whether that person formally takes over as the recognized chairman of the state party’s operations itself: That question still resides with the state party members and, in this case, possibly the courts, he said.

“The RNC seats its members, it doesn’t have any legal control over the state party,” said Steele, who acknowledged that RNC lawyers are carefully monitoring the controversy playing out in the Michigan GOP. “In this case, I suspect (whoever the RNC recognizes), it wouldn’t be resolved.”

He noted McDaniel and many other top RNC leaders are current or former state party chairs and there is recognition that state GOP groups don’t want the national party to dictate local leadership questions. But Steele, who on Monday endorsed Trump for the party’s nomination, said the question of who is assuming leadership of the party is a vital given the two-part primary/convention structure for awarding delegates the state party is attempting on Feb. 27 and March 2.

Hoekstra said he isn't overly concerned about the convention delegate issue because he expects the Republican nomination fight for president to be settled as early as Tuesday, when the results of the New Hampshire primary are known.

Hoekstra said he prefers primaries to caucuses for making such decisions. The Michigan GOP under Karamo has opted for a system for choosing delegates to the national convention that is based partly on the Feb. 27 Michigan primary and partly on a caucus-style nominating convention to be held March 2. Hoekstra said he isn't interested in trying to change that, because there is too little time to do so.

Asked if he has made any outreach to Karamo about resolving the dispute, Hoekstra said he has not. He said he was disturbed by a recent media interview in which Karamo was quoted as saying that party unity was not part of her job.

"Unity is my number one objective," he said. Based on those remarks, it's difficult to see where there is common ground between him and Karamo, he said.

Hoekstra said he believes there were irregularities in the 2020 presidential election, but he has no idea whether they affected the outcome and is not interested in wasting time exploring the issues. He cited U.S. intelligence sources describing as Russian disinformation stories arising from a laptop owned by Hunter Biden, when subsequent reporting has shown the reported contents of the laptop were authentic. Hoekstra also pointed to national intelligence officials communicating with social media companies to help them identify disinformation, which he said was outside the jurisdiction of the agencies involved. One of the state party committees he will establish will deal with election integrity, he said.

Though Trump and many of his supporters have been highly critical of absentee voting in the past, Hoekstra said he will encourage voters supporting Republican candidates to vote absentee or at the polls, based on whatever works best for them.

With the possibility of late developments such as snowstorms, "I don't want us to say we're going to bank all of our votes until Election Day," he said.

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

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Pete Hoekstra, chosen to replace Kristina Karamo in Michigan GOP feud