More questions than answers persist over who runs the Michigan Republican Party

Kristina Karamo makes remarks during a rally on Oct. 1, 2022 in Warren. (Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

By Michigan Advance

January 23, 2024

BY JON KING, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—Claims and counterclaims of leadership, backed up by lawsuits and motions to dismiss. Thus is the state of the Michigan Republican Party.

The chaos follows a weekend meeting in Lansing by one faction of the state party that selected former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, as the new chair. That same group voted at a Jan. 6 gathering to oust Kristina Karamo due to the dismal state of the party’s finances, and then filed suit against Karamo on Friday in Kent County Circuit Court looking to secure legitimization under the law as the state’s party.

Karamo’s faction, meanwhile, has since filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the issue is an internal party matter and not for the courts to decide.

“(T)he matter concerns a political question, and has been resolved by the Michigan Republican State Committee that is the sole authority for interpreting its own bylaws,” states the motion filed Saturday by Daniel Hartman, who maintains he is the Michigan Republican Party general counsel, even though the members who voted to remove Karamo also voted for his removal.

Karamo’s faction held its own meeting in Houghton on Jan. 13 and claims to have reaffirmed her position as party chair as well as invalidated the Jan. 6 gathering. It also filed a series of cease and desist letters against Hoekstra and others, including former party Co-Chair Malinda Pego, who said she was the acting chair of the party after the vote to remove Karamo, and will maintain the title of co-chair under Hoekstra.

In a message on migop.org, the website that has traditionally been used by the state party and remains under the control of Karamo and her followers, Hartman reiterated their perspective that the meeting to remove Karamo was not valid under the party’s bylaws and thus Saturday’s gathering anointing Hoekstra was equally invalid.

“…it is clear that the 83 members who were present at the State Committee meeting [on Jan.13], voted to declare and make it crystal clear, that the January 6th meeting was invalid for the reasons found in the Policy Committee sub report which is attached to our summary disposition,” stated Hartman. “The court has no further work to do. The State Party has already resolved this matter. Thank you for your time.”

That was followed by an email that described the effort to remove Karamo as a “political lynching … orchestrated by the same elitist individuals who maintain the corrupt status-quo caste system within the Michigan Republican Party.”

The email went on to say it was “rogue Republicans” who had led the “illegal and unethical January 6th gathering to try and eliminate Chairwoman Karamo. Thank God they were unsuccessful!”

Whether that turns out to be the case remains unresolved.

While the Republican National Committee (RNC) still lists Karamo as state party chair, Slate reports RNC officials say they are “reviewing records of the competing January meetings.”

However, the need for a resolution to the leadership split is pressing ahead of the Feb. 27 presidential primary and a planned March 2 GOP presidential caucus in Detroit to allocate which presidential candidate will be awarded the most delegates toward becoming the party’s official nominee this November.

With all indications pointing toward former President Donald Trump being that nominee, the choice of Hoekstra as the splinter group’s new chair takes on additional meaning.

Hoekstra remains a strong ally of Trump and his ascension to the position of chair reportedly followed a call from Mar-a-Lago on Saturday to Oakland County Republican Party Chair Vance Patrick, who had also been seeking the top position.

“They called me, they said, ‘We need to support Pete,’” Patrick said, adding that the gist of the call conveyed, “It’s probably the best situation to manage the state of Michigan’s GOP Party right now.”

Hoekstra, who unsuccessfully ran for both governor and U.S. Senate after leaving the U.S. House in 2010, was appointed by Trump to be the ambassador to Netherlands, the country of his birth, in late 2017.

Almost immediately Hoekstra faced controversy while speaking on a panel when he was confronted about anti-Muslim remarks in which he claimed there are “no-go zones” in the Netherlands. Although Hoekstra claimed it was “fake news,” a Dutch TV interview surfaced with him saying it. He later apologized. He also made headlines in 2020 when he visited a cemetery filled with Nazi war dead.

Meanwhile, former 2018 GOP congressional candidate Lena Epstein, who placed second to Hoekstra on Saturday’s ballot, sent out a congratulatory email afterward saying she was “confident in his ability to guide the Michigan Republican Party, uniting us as we work collectively towards our shared values and a brighter future.”

Epstein also announced she was forming a new political action committee for the open U.S. Senate race in Michigan, which she said was “critical, particularly now, as the MIGOP’s current financial resources are locked due to the former administration’s control over our bank accounts. We are currently waiting for decisions from the RNC and the courts to address this matter. It’s of utmost importance to me that we protect the funds I raise for the US Senate race in Michigan and prevent any potential mismanagement by the Karamo administration.”

VIDEO: What’s the deal with the Michigan Republican Party?

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

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