Pat Brady’s resignation Tuesday as chairman of the state’s Republican Party was a move months in the making, an effort to leave on his own terms rather than being ousted for his support of gay marriage.
But in leaving the post, effective immediately, Brady’s decision resurfaces publicly the decades of behind-the-scenes infighting between social moderates who long ruled the GOP and social conservatives who sought more power in directing party activities.
Brady’s resignation comes as the Illinois GOP prepares to enter the beginnings of a political season focused on the 2014 contest for governor — a seat that had been within Republican grasp in 2010 only to see Democrat Pat Quinn gain a narrow but important victory.
The Quinn victory gave Democrats the unfettered right to draw new and favorable legislative and congressional boundaries. And that led to severe Republican losses last November that only put Illinois more firmly in the column of blue states.
Now the GOP nationally and at the state level is looking to reach out beyond its traditional base. But the optics of Brady’s ouster — focused on the controversy over his backing of pending same-sex marriage legislation — magnifies the difficult party rebuilding process in Illinois.
For Brady, smarting over criticism by some members of the Republican State Central Committee, the answer is to entrust the GOP’s next agenda to Republican officeholders that have shown their ability to get elected, rather than to an inside panel of party pooh-bahs.
“There’s plenty of them. You have (U.S. Sen.) Mark Kirk on one side and (U.S. Rep.) Peter Roskam on the other. They’re true leaders in my mind,” Brady told the Tribune. “The central committee members thought it was just the opposite, that they run the party. No, it’s the opposite. They need to look to the people who have won elections and proven they’re leaders.”
Brady contended that only a “sliver of the party” is driving the socially conservative message as opposed to “the people who are the rank and file.” Absent efforts to seek a broader appeal among voters, the GOP will face further losses as conservatives put a premium on purity over electability, he said.
“Not to belittle the grassroots, but the whole purpose is to get your candidates elected,” he said.
Republican leaders, who orchestrated Brady’s exit strategy last month at a meeting in Tinley Park, said about a dozen real contenders are vying to replace Brady. That number is likely to be winnowed to five or fewer within the next two weeks after a Wednesday conference call of the state central committee members, they said.
Among the contenders is Jason Plummer, son of a wealthy Downstate lumber baron, who was the lieutenant governor running mate of state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington in 2010 and who lost a bid for Congress in southwestern Illinois last year.
Also seeking the job is Jim Nalepa of Hinsdale, who lost bids for Congress in the 1990s and opted against running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in 2008. Nalepa also made a failed bid for the GOP chairmanship in 2005.
Mark Shaw, who was appointed to the state central committee a year ago from Lake County, also has expressed interest, as has Tim Schneider, a Cook County commissioner from Streamwood.
Brady said he believed a woman should succeed him to provide “better optics” for a political party trying to modernize. “Do we need anymore white Irish males?” he joked.
But Demetra DeMonte of Pekin, who serves as secretary to the Republican National Committee, took herself out of the running. Acting state GOP Chair Carol Smith Donovan of Chicago also is not a contender for the position, GOP leaders said.
State Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, a state central committee member who led the movement to oust Brady, also is not running for the chairmanship. In Springfield, Oberweis sought to knit the need for outreach against his criticism that Brady’s position on same-sex marriage ran counter to the state GOP’s party platform.
“I think the Republican Party has to be open to different viewpoints. I think that is a positive. We need a chairman who will bring different elements of the party together to unify us,” Oberweis said.
State Sen. Dave Syverson of Rockford, also a state central committee member, said the “goal is to get the chairman and the Republican message the same: that we can do better, that we have to do better in Illinois and we can do that with a Republican economic philosophy that has worked so well in other states.”
But Syverson’s goal leaves out the continued strain within the party over social issues — a factor which played heavily into the GOP’s loss for governor the last time out.
Tribune reporter Monique Garcia contributed.Copyright © 2015, RedEye