The Illinois Republican Party's central committee backed off an attempt to fire party chairman Pat Brady on Saturday, amid concern that ousting him because of his support for gay marriage could damage GOP efforts to appeal to more moderate voters.
Brady became a target of some socially conservative members of the party when he spoke out in favor of a bill before the Legislature earlier this year that would end Illinois' ban on same-sex marriage.
Committeemen had scheduled a Saturday meeting in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park to consider firing him, but it was canceled late Friday, partly because it became clear there weren't enough votes to remove Brady.
State Sen. Dave Syverson, a committeeman and party treasurer, said the vote would have been close, but members who had concerns about Brady separate from his gay marriage stance "didn't want to be thrown in with those" concerned about it.
"Instead of making a rash decision, we wanted to sit down and say, 'What are our goals and are we reaching them?' Sometimes holding off and giving time to make a rational decision actually works," Syverson, R-Rockford, said.
The conflict recently has spread past the state's boundaries, and prominent Republicans, including U.S. Mark Kirk and state House Republican Leader Tom Cross, warned that firing Brady would be "a mistake." They say if the party is going to grow, it needs to be more inclusive and accepting of differences of opinion — particularly in the Democratic-leaning state of Illinois.
A spokesman for Kirk, the state's ranking Republican lawmaker, said Saturday the senator was pleased the committee "made the right decision." Kirk voted to end the policy barring gays from openly serving in the military, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and he opposes a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
"(Kirk) believes it's time to move on and focus on getting Republicans elected in 2014," spokesman Lance Trover said.
Brady, who also had the support of former Illinois GOP governors Jim Edgar and Jim Thompson, declined to comment.
The Republican Party is trying to regroup after a poor showing at the polls in November, with national leaders vowing to work harder to attract more young, moderate and minority voters who may agree with the party's stance on fiscal matters but who disagree with its views on social issues, such as immigration and gay rights.
Last month, more than 75 prominent Republicans, including seven former governors and advisers to former President George W. Bush, signed a legal brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down California's ban on same-sex marriage. Former First Lady Laura Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney also support gay marriage.
But politicians who vote or take public positions that counter more conservative members of their party often face consequences, including primary challenges and defeats.
State Sen. Jason Barickman was the lone Republican to vote for the gay marriage bill when the Illinois Senate passed it last month. The House hasn't voted on it yet. Barickman faced criticism from county GOP officials back home, and was the target of automated phone calls to his constituents by an organization that opposes gay marriage.
State Sen. Jim Oberweis, one of the committeemen leading the effort to remove Brady, said it was "certainly a possibility" that the issue could come up again at the party's meeting in April in Chicago. Oberweis, of Sugar Grove, said members delayed the meeting because they wanted more time and wanted to be sure Brady, who is out of town, could attend.
"Some of the members thought it would be better to take a little more time and make sure Pat could be back," Oberweis said. "... I think we're all interested in figuring out how to help revive the Republican Party in Illinois."
Oberweis said gay marriage isn't the only reason he wants Brady gone; he also blames Brady for the party's poor November election results and for working against some Republicans in primary elections.
"I believe that the Republican Party identity has to be on financial sanity, solving some of our fiscal mess," said Oberweis, a dairy magnate. "This other stuff is a diversion from that."