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Michigan Republicans vote to oust Kristina Karamo. Court fight next?

Supporters of embattled Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo gathered on Saturday outside a Commerce Township sports club, where state party leaders voted to oust her. Karamo says she isn't leaving. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan Republicans state leaders say they’ve voted to remove Chair Kristina Karamo
  • Karamo argues the meeting was illegal and illegitimate
  • Vote could spur legal fight over control of the state party

Jan. 17: Bank: Michigan GOP defaulted on $500K loan, hasn’t made payment in months
Jan. 13: Kristina Karamo: I’m ‘undisputed’ GOP chair. Not so fast, critics say
Jan. 9: Kristina Karamo critics to appeal to national party amid Michigan GOP ‘chaos’

COMMERCE TOWNSHIP — With gunshots ringing out from a nearby firing range, Michigan Republicans emerged from a nearly four-hour meeting on Saturday and declared they'd voted to remove Chairwoman Kristina Karamo.

“History has been made,” state committee member Bree Moeggenberg told reporters outside a repurposed range house at the Multi Lakes Conservation Association in Commerce Township, where Karamo critics gathered for the second time in as many months. 

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The vote to remove Karamo came from party leaders in the state committee, but it wasn’t clear what — if any — impact the action might have.

Karamo, who refused to concede her 14-point loss in the 2022 secretary of state race, said the meeting was “illegal” and illegitimate under party bylaws. That sets up a potential legal showdown as rival factions fight for control of the Michigan GOP just days into an important election year. 

“Their performance has no legal standing,” Karamo said in a statement after the Saturday vote. “I am still chair of the Michigan Republican Party."

Critics said they also voted to oust Michigan GOP general counsel Dan Hartman, who attended what he called the “sham meeting” in Commerce Township and blasted the process. He contended the Saturday vote did not reflect the will of precinct delegates who elected Karamo last year. 

“This is a battle for the heart and soul of the party,” Hartman told Bridge Michigan after leaving the meeting around 3:30 p.m.

Michigan Republican leaders voted to remove the state party's general counsel Dan Hartman on Saturday, but he called the gathering a "sham meeting." He attended the Saturday event in Commerce Township. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Karamo opponents contend the gathering was legitimate but acknowledged the ouster effort required unique maneuvers, including the use of proxy votes to achieve a required quorum of the 107-member state committee. 

They’ll ask a court to recognize the leadership change, according to Moeggenberg, who told reporters “the legal paperwork has already been started.”

The Karamo administration, in turn, vowed to take "take swift and decisive action to hold all participants in today's attempted coup accountable."

All told, organizers said 45 state committee members attended — not counting proxies — and 40 voted to remove Karamo. That's 88 percent of the total who had gathered. 

The ouster vote punctuates months of drama in the state party, which Karamo took over last February as part of a grassroots movement inspired by former President Donald Trump. She was elected by about 1,500 precinct delegates.

Outraged over the party's sluggish fundraising and Karamo's handling of local party disputes, former supporters and longtime opponents joined forces to lead the removal campaign.

The Karamo administration attempted to downplay and delegitimize the meeting before it began, calling it “unauthorized” and saying organizers were "incapable of conducting any official business of the Michigan GOP. 

"They can pretend they're conducting official business, but it's not real," said Phil O'Halloran, who chairs the state party's election integrity committee. 

O'Halloran was among roughly a dozen Karamo supporters who gathered outside the meeting, which coincided with the three-year anniversary of a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol that was spurred by Trump's false claims about the 2020 election.  

"I'm just here to make sure we don't have another stolen election," said Patrick Colbeck, a former state senator who opposes efforts to remove Karamo. "I'm supporting the rule of law, and this is kind of disappointing."

It may ultimately be up to the Republican National Committee to “decide who to recognize as the true Michigan chairman,” said GOP strategist Dennis Lennox, who noted the RNC is set to meet later this month in Las Vegas. 

“Or this could be prolonged until (the July Republican National Convention in) Milwaukee, which would almost surely result in months of uncertainty and two slates of delegates being sent to the national convention.”

Under party bylaws, co-chair Melinda Pego becomes temporary chair if Karamo is removed. In a Saturday evening statement identifying her as acting chair, Pego said "it is time to unify Republicans and grow our voter base to win elections."

If Karamo's removal is upheld, the 107-member state committee would later vote for a permanent replacement to finish her two-year term. 

Possible candidates include Oakland County GOP Chair Vance Patrick and former Congressman Pete Hoekstra, a former U.S. ambassador under Trump, according to Karamo ouster organizer Warren Carpenter.

“I think we’ve got a lot of time, with the right new hire as chair” to salvage the 2024 election cycle, Carpenter said after the meeting. “We were sold a bill of good” on Karamo, he added, noting he initially supported her.

Bree Moeggenberg told reporters that she and other Republicans "made history" on Saturday by voting to oust state party chair Kristina Karamo. A court fight is likely looming. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Karamo has called a special meeting for Jan. 13, with plans to consider a controversial proposal that would allow Michigan GOP precinct delegates – rather than primary voters – to nominate candidates for most elected offices.

Critics of Karamo began gathering at the Oakland County conservation association at 1 p.m. but did not vote to remove her until later in the afternoon. Among other things, they first had to email the state party secretary the 54 state committee member petition signatures required to hold the vote.

The media was not allowed inside the meeting, but activists on both sides of the party divide relayed information to reporters outside. 

Among the flashpoints: Two Karamo allies alleged opponents were inside the meeting acting as their proxies even though they had not authorized it, a maneuver organizers contend was allowable under party bylaws. 

"They're trying to hoodwink the entire state party," argued Darlene Doetzel, a Karamo loyalist and state committee member from Shelby Township.  “They’re literally out to try to destroy the Republican Party.”

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