Republican Melee Prompts More Questions About State GOP Leadership

Kristina Karamo speaks to delegates at the Michigan Republican Party convention on Feb. 18 in Lansing. (AP Photo/Joey Cappelletti)

By Michigan Advance

July 11, 2023

BY JON KING, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—The leadership, direction and finances of the Michigan Republican Party are being questioned following a physical melee that broke out at a state committee meeting over the weekend. 

Saturday’s special gathering at the Doherty Hotel in Clare came amid public questioning of the leadership of new Chair Kristina Karamo, specifically how party funds were being raised and spent. Karamo was elected in March in a crowded field after her unsuccessful secretary of state bid last year.

However, the event instead made national headlines when a party member and a county party chair got into a scuffle that brought out police and could result in charges. 

Mark DeYoung, chairman of the Clare County Republican Party, told the Detroit News that he was attacked by Wayne County Republican James Chapman when he opened a locked door Chapman was trying to open.

“He kicked me in my balls as soon as I opened the door,” DeYoung told the News, adding that Chapman then slammed him into a chair, breaking his rib and requiring a trip to the emergency room.

Chapman alleges DeYoung took a swing at him first, prompting him to remove his glasses.

“When you see me taking my glasses off, I’m ready to rock,” Chapman was quoted by the News as saying.

DeYoung denies he acted first and said he plans to press charges. Clare Police say a complaint had been filed and was being investigated.

Requests were made to both Karamo and the Michigan GOP for comment. Neither returned the requests.

Regardless, the incident only furthered criticism of Karamo’s leadership and the party’s direction.

Attorney Matthew DePerno, who unsuccessfully ran against Karamo for leadership of the party, wasn’t present at the gathering over the weekend in Clare. But he told the Advance that the stated reason to close the meeting to all but state committee members didn’t hold water.

“The reason given to close the state committee meeting to guests and delegates was that sensitive and confidential financial information would be disclosed during the meeting,” he said. “However, as I watched the meeting, there was no information given and questions were ignored or deflected. When guests and delegates were finally allowed in to ask questions at the conclusion of the official meeting, the questions were generally the same as asked during the meeting, and again, the questions were deflected or ignored.”

DePerno ran for attorney general last year and was defeated by Democratic incumbent Dana Nessel. He remains the subject of a special prosecutor investigation into an alleged conspiracy to illegally obtain and tamper with voting tabulators following the 2020 election that former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden.

The issue of party finances has been building. In March, Karamo announced the Michigan GOP wouldn’t be using its Lansing headquarters, which she said would cost $12,000 per month to keep operating.

It was also reported by MIRS last month that the credit card used by the Michigan Republican Party to reserve tables at the Oakland County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner featuring Trump was initially declined.

Karamo also removed Matthew Johnson as chair of the party’s Budget Committee, while barring her co-chair, Malinda Pego, from having access to the party’s bank account. 

Karamo reportedly said Johnson had failed to keep her informed on the party’s budget and had kicked her chief of staff out of a budget committee meeting. In response, Johnson claimed the party was “on the path to bankruptcy,” due to spending “far out of proportion with income.”

Pego, meanwhile, said the state committee should approve a budget as soon as possible.

Neither Johnson nor Pego, who hold leadership positions within the Muskegon County GOP, returned requests by the Advance for comment.

(Former Chair) Ron Weiser would have never closed a meeting to delegates and guests. The current leadership is secretive and not transparent; indeed the least transparent that I’ve ever seen. There has been no accounting of money raised or spent, maybe very little has been raised.

– Former GOP attorney general nominee Matthew DePerno

DePerno said the Saturday episode highlighted a turn for the worse in the party’s leadership.

“[Former Chair] Ron Weiser would have never closed a meeting to delegates and guests,” he said. “The current leadership is secretive and not transparent; indeed the least transparent that I’ve ever seen. There has been no accounting of money raised or spent, maybe very little has been raised. Certainly, campaign promises have not been fulfilled or worse, completely broken, which undermines unity. The current leadership—through its lack of transparency, secretive meetings, and failure to fulfill campaign promises—has become worse than which it claimed to fight against.”

There had also been speculation that Saturday’s meeting could feature an effort to unseat Karamo as party chair and replace her with Ottawa County Commissioner Joe Moss, although that never materialized.

Karamo rose to prominence in the party when she made unfounded allegations about voting irregularities in Detroit after the 2020 election. She lost her 2022 election by 14 points to Democratic incumbent Jocelyn Benson, has never conceded that loss and continues to falsely allege the election was “rigged.”

Since becoming chair, Karamo defended a Michigan GOP social media post comparing gun reform legislation introduced by Democrats in the wake of the Feb. 13 mass shooting at Michigan State University to the Holocaust.

“We’re a different Republican Party,” Karamo said at a press conference. “We are not the Republican Party who apologizes and runs away from our positions. It’s the reason why the Republican Party has gotten kicked in the teeth the last three cycles, because it’s been a party that’s always apologizing. We’re done. We are a party that’s inclusive. We are a party that represents every Michigander, irrespective of any factor about you. I’m here to protect your constitutional rights.”

Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party who is now with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, has long been a critic of the direction of his former party.

“A GOP state committee meeting broke out at a fight this past weekend,” Timer told the Michigan Advance. “It should surprise no one that this group has devolved into a brutish mob — anyone remember Jan. 6 [2021]? They’ve aligned themselves and platformed domestic terrorists and hate groups. We should stop pretending those aren’t what today’s Republican Party is.”

Timmer said the controversy is far from over for the party and its leadership.

“It should also be no surprise that the knives are out for Kristina Karamo,” he said. “She’s an anti-democracy QAnon theocratic zealot. But the more clever and capable thugs in the party, like Matt DePerno and Joe Moss, want to seize what’s left of the carcass of the GOP and use it to further their dark and corrupt aims. They’ll not likely ever get three-quarters of the state committee to go along with them, but they’ll keep trying.”

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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