Republican infighting rages on after vote to retain Karamo

Kristina Karamo watches for votes to be tallied at the Michigan Republican Convention in Lansing on Feb. 18. (Sarah Rice for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

By Michigan Advance

January 16, 2024


MICHIGAN—Members of the Michigan Republican Party State Committee on Saturday braved the snowy and slick roads to attend a closed-doors meeting in Houghton Lake, where they voted to retain Kristina Karamo as the party’s chair.

Following the vote, Karamo posted a video on social media with MIGOP State Committee Member Braden Giacobazzi, saying the matter had been settled.

“I look forward to serving you, serving Michigan, and winning in 2024 to save our children’s future,” Karamo said.

However, it looks like the conflict that has plagued the MIGOP is far from over, as a faction of members still says Karamo has been removed.

Starting on Saturday morning, members of the party met at the Northern Michigan Banquet and Event Center in Houghton Lake, where Karamo and her supporters promised to put the legitimacy of last week’s meeting and her status as chair to a vote.

Following a meeting on Jan. 6 where 40 members of the party’s state committee voted to remove Karamo as chair, the MIGOP has splintered into two factions as the 2024 election looms.

One is led by party Co-Chair Malinda Pego, who says she is acting chair of the party; another is helmed by Karamo, a 2020 election denier and 2020 GOP secretary of state nominee whose supporters insist the Jan. 6 meeting to remove her was invalid due to a lack of compliance with party bylaws.

The factions are using separate websites and separate emails for communications, and have submitted multiple conflicting statements about party leadership and operations over the last week. That includes statements from Pego’s group canceling Saturday’s meeting—which still ended up taking place—and conflicting documents from both sides on the validity of the Jan. 6 meeting and vote in Commerce Township.

During the Saturday meeting in Houghton Lake, media was not permitted inside the building. While this reporter was initially told in the morning that he could wait in the lobby as the meeting was held in another room, he was told later in the day he was not allowed inside the building and could wait in the parking lot. No other members of the media appeared to be physically present at Saturday’s meeting.

This reporter was later threatened Saturday afternoon and told to leave the premises by a man who said he was not affiliated with the sergeant-at-arms watching the entrance to the meeting room.

According to a post on Twitter from Robert Morris Owens, the communications director for Karamo’s party, 83 members of the party’s 107 member state committee were present at Saturday’s meeting.

Owens also posted that the “small but militant members” of Karamo’s opposition were present.

While Daniel Lawless, a member of the party’s state committee, contested the number of attendees present in multiple posts saying proxies may have been appointed, Owens responded to Detroit News reporter Craig Mauger saying there were 83 members in attendance at the meeting, with zero proxies accounted for.

A later post on the Michigan Republican Party Twitter account said there were 80-plus members in attendance, with 12 attending virtually. Ahead of the meeting, the party posted to its website that virtual accommodations would be available for any state committee member unable to attend, with the National Weather Service warning of hazardous weather in the area due to a big snowstorm.

While Owens and the party did not respond to a reply from the Advance asking for a final number of attendees present in-person and virtually, he told Mauger the party would release a full list of attendees and the vote counts.

During the meeting, members took a “nearly unanimous vote” to deem the Jan. 6 meeting illegitimate, according to a video posted on the party’s Rumble account.

Karamo’s party later posted on Twitter that members had voted to retain her as chair, in a 59-1 vote. They shared a video of the vote total’s announcement on the party’s Rumble account.

According to a post from Owens, Karamo waived the 54 signature requirement to bring the matter of her removal before the party.

Under the party’s bylaws, a petition carrying signatures from 50% of the state committee must be submitted to the party secretary requesting a vote on the chair’s removal to bring the matter before the committee.

When asked on Twitter why some of the attendees chose not to vote, Owens responded saying some state committee members “had concerns over backlash from funding sources in their home area.”

“Since the result of the vote was so clear before it was even taken, many thought there was no reason to alienate certain factions that ultimately need to work together,” Owens said in his response to the Advance.

Owens also responded to Mauger and another Twitter user saying there had been threats made by the anti-Karamo crowd.

Pego’s faction did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations.

Before the meeting, Pego contested Karamo’s ability to bring her removal to a vote a second time.

In an email to supporters, Pego continued to argue that Karamo had been ousted as chair. However, assuming Karamo were still chair of the party, she would not have the unilateral authority to change the agenda at will, Pego said.

Members present at the meeting also voted to remove Pego as co-chair in a vote of 95.2%, Owens posted on Twitter. He did not respond to a reply asking to confirm the vote count and whether signatures had been brought to remove Pego. When asked the same question via direct message, Owens confirmed the percentage of the vote and said he would see if he could get exact names and numbers.

A statement from Karamo’s faction said the 76 members voted in favor of Pego’s removal, while two members voted no, and three abstained. Pego has also been banned from affiliating with the party for five years, according to a post from Karamo’s party.

While Owens posted that the party would not hold a vote for a new co-chair on Saturday, the party has already floated some candidates to precinct delegates in a survey shared by Bridge Michigan reporter Jonathan Oosting. Owens also shared a poll on Twitter, asking who should replace Pego as co-chair.

Pego released a statement calling business conducted at the meeting “a direct violation” of the party’s bylaws and guide for procedure. In another statement emailed to the Advance, Pego said the events of the Jan. 13 meeting would not be recognized.

Meanwhile, Pego’s party has released its own statement recognizing the results of the Jan. 6 meeting and Pego as acting chair. The statement was undersigned by the party’s Grassroots Vice Chair Marian Sheridan, Coalitions Vice Chair Hassan Nehme, Administrative Vice Chair Ali Hossein, as well as nine of the party’s 13 district chairs, many of whom previously signed on to another statement requesting Karamo’s resignation.

According to another post from Owens, 2nd District Chair Andy Sebolt, 8th District Chair Anne Delisle, 5th District Chair JD Glaser were removed from authority. Each member had called for Karamo’s resignation and recognized the Jan. 6 meeting.

Lawless, alongside state committee members Bree Moeggenberg and Tim Ross, were also removed from authority. Moeggenberg and Lawless have each publicly supported Karamo’s removal.

According to a statement from Karamo’s faction, 61 members voted to remove Sebolt, Delisle, Glaser, Lawless, Moeggenberg, and Ross and ban them from affiliating with the party for five years. Five members voted no, while 15 abstained.

“What a shame and an embarrassment it is to call oneself a Republican in the party of the Constitution all while recklessly suspending bylaws to allow themselves the lawless claim that they removed others for merely exercising their liberty of voice,” Moeggenberg said in a text to the Advance on Saturday. “These very people have more characteristics that resemble a Democrat than [President Joe] Biden has marbles.

“The way that I see it, their ‘meeting’ merely reinforced exactly what we have been saying all along. … They are reckless and their divisive and malicious nature is destructive to the party,” Moeggenberg said.

In addition to facing opposition from Pego’s faction, a group called “Save Michigan” has also begun circulating emails blasting Karamo’s leadership. The group shares a name with the political action committee that backed Republican Tudor Dixon for governor in the 2022 election.

However, the group lists a different address than the one named by the PAC, whose stated purpose is to support pro-business candidates.

The address listed in the group’s email, 1776 Washington Drive, Lansing MI 48901, does not appear valid. While Washington Avenue is a street in the 48910 ZIP code, Washington Drive is not a street in Lansing. A Google Maps search of the address on both Washington Street and Washington Avenue in Lansing did not display any particular structure. The address, 1776, may be a reference to the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, with Washington as a reference to the nation’s first president, George Washington.

In one of the emails circulated by the group, it stated Pego’s party would host an election for a new chair on Jan. 20, listing Oakland County Republican Party Chair Vance Patrick, former Ambassador and U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Holland) and former 2018 congressional candidate Lena Epstein—who previously ran for chair in 2023 against Karamo—as candidates.

Pego confirmed an election would be held on Jan. 20, and said all state committee members and county chairs had been notified in her statement on Saturday night.

While the Advance reached out to the Save Michigan email for clarity on the purpose of the group and who was operating it, there has been no response as of the time of publication.

READ MORE: Michigan Republicans vote to boot Karamo as chairwoman

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



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