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Michigan GOP faction sues Karamo, picks Hoekstra to replace her

Pete Hoekstra talks to reporters
Former Ambassador Pete Hoekstra speaks to reporters after an election to replace Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan Republican Party faction votes to replace Chair Kristina Karamo with former Ambassador Pete Hoekstra
  • Karamo says she remains 'undisputed' chair of the Michigan GOP after another Republican faction voted to retain her
  • Karamo critics sued her, seeking judicial intervention to resolve the leadership dispute

LANSING — Republicans who claim to have ousted Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo are now suing to force her removal and have selected her replacement: Former U.S. Ambassador Pete Hoekstra.

Saturday’s vote for a new chair by roughly 50 state committee members and proxy delegates marks the latest front in an ongoing leadership battle that has rocked the Michigan Republican Party heading into an important election cycle. 

Karamo, who has threatened legal action of her own, has said she remains the “undisputed” leader of the Michigan GOP after a majority group of the 107-member state committee members voted to retain her as chair last weekend.


“We will go to the (Republican National Committee), present the work that happened here today and say we are the legitimate Republican Party in Michigan, “ Hoekstra told reporters after the vote. 

The former congressman, who served as former president Donald Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands, said seeking “recognition” from the national party or courts is his first priority, calling it a necessary step to lure back donors who left the state party under Karamo’s leadership. 

“This is a winning team,” he said of the Republicans who gathered Saturday. “These are people that want to work together and they want to be successful in November because they know what kind of a difference that will make.”

Karamo did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a Saturday email to state party delegates claimed the vote was orchestrated by “the same group of elitist individuals” who had long maintained a “corrupt status-quo caste system within the Michigan Republican Party.” 

Hoekstra won Saturday’s vote in a run-off against businesswoman Lena Epstein, who co-chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in Michigan.

Oakland County GOP Chair Vance Patrick lost in the first round but backed Hoekstra in the second, telling reporters “the Trump team” reached out to him to make clear the former president’s preference. Karamo supporters questioned that claim, and Trump’s campaign did not immediately confirm.

Matthew DePerno, who ran against Karamo for chair last year, said he spoke with Trump following Saturday’s vote and urged him to press Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel to recognize Hoekstra as chair.

“If she doesn't make a decision, the courts will,” DePerno said. 

Karamo critics sued her Friday in Kent County Circuit Court, alleging she effectively breached a contract by violating state party bylaws. They’re seeking a judicial declaration that she was "properly removed as chair" on Jan. 6 and that her subsequent actions or meetings are "void and have no force or effect."

Karamo has "brazenly and repeatedly" refused to recognize what critics say was a 40-5 state committee vote to remove her three weeks ago, causing "significant confusion" for Michigan GOP precinct delegates and county parties heading into 2024 elections, attorneys wrote. 

The RNC has so far declined to take sides in the leadership dispute, but the complaint warns the drama "is already causing… confusion" about who will conduct and transmit results from a Michigan GOP presidential nominating caucus convention planned for March 2 in Detroit.

Plaintiffs in the suit include Karamo’s former Co-Chair Malinda Pego, state party Administrative Vice Chair Ali Hossein, Coalitions Vice Chair Hassan Nehme, 8th Congressional District Chair Anne DeLisle, former 9th District Chair Warren Carpenter and other state committee members.

Karamo, who has called the Jan. 6 meeting “illegal,” organized a separate gathering of state committee members on Jan. 13, where her administration said party faithful voted 59-1 to keep her on as chair. Karamo supporters also voted to remove Pego and other critics from the party and ban them for five years. 

On Thursday, Karamo announced that she’d sent cease and desist letters to some of the Republicans who organized against her, along with the three candidates who competed to replace her: Hoekstra, businesswoman Lena Epstein and Oakland County Republican Party Chair Vance Patrick.

She alleges the “rogue faction” defamed her character while infringing on copyrights and trademarks by using the Michigan GOP brand. 

Karamo, an election denier who ran for Secretary of State in 2022 and refused to concede her 14-point loss to Democratic incumbent Jocelyn Benson, was elected chair by Michigan GOP delegates last February as part of a grassroots takeover.

While she campaigned on an aggressive plan to woo small dollar donors to the Michigan GOP, the party has struggled to raise money under Karamo’s watch and defaulted on a $500,000 loan she said was inherited from predecessors. 

Karamo has variously blamed the “deep state” and “RINOs” — Republicans in name only — for withholding financial contributions and then blaming her for sluggish fundraising as part of a plot to ensure her failure. 

“We as a party — as delegates, as many county chairs — we have disrupted a failed status quo,” Karamo said Friday on a weekly Michigan GOP podcast. “The way we’ve operated as a party (in the past) has failed, and it's been to the benefit of a small group of people at the expense of our country.”

But in a pitch to state committee members ahead of the vote, Hoekstra vowed to try to unite the grassroots and traditional Republicans who had previously funded the state party operations. 

“For the last 13 months, we have destroyed our relationship with our donors,” Hoekstra said in a candidate forum. “There are lots of outside groups that are out there that are going to want to invest in Michigan and we need to make sure that the Michigan GOP is a viable alternative.

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