By JOEY CAPPELLETTI and COREY WILLIAMS
COMMERCE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Republicans have voted to remove election denier and state GOP Chairwoman Kristina Karamo during a meeting Saturday after many of the party’s leaders called for her resignation following a year of leadership plagued by debt and infighting.
Nearly 89% of those present voted to oust Karamo, said Bree Moeggenberg, District 2 State Committeewoman. About 45 people, not including proxies, attended the meeting.
Karamo did not attend the meeting and has made it clear she will not recognize the vote if removed, claiming the meeting was not official and had been illegally organized. The unfolding situation could set the stage for a court fight to determine control of the highest position within the Michigan GOP.
“She’s been voted out by the state committee,” Bethany Wheeler, a state committee member, told reporters. “If this was a corporation, that’s the board. They’ve now fired the CEO, basically. She can fight it. But the fact of the matter is she was removed by the state committee and now they are in charge.”
Current co-chair Malinda Pego will serve as acting chair until another election for chair is held, Wheeler said
The internal dispute takes place as Michigan Republicans look to rebound from 2022 midterms in which they suffered historic losses. The party is aiming this year to flip an open U.S. Senate seat while also helping the Republican presidential nominee win the battleground state.
Michigan is among several swing states where parties overtaken by far-right leadership have struggled to overcome infighting and money issues. Similar situations have unfolded in Georgia and Arizona, which pose a significant issue in the 2024 presidential election where those states are poised to play pivotal roles.
Karamo, a former community college instructor, rose through Michigan’s Republican ranks by spreading election conspiracies after the 2020 presidential election. She eventually was backed by former President Donald Trump in her run for secretary of state in 2022, losing by 14 percentage points in a result that she still refuses to concede.
State Committeewoman Darlene Doetzel voted in favor of Karamo and was outraged by Saturday’s vote and the result.
“All they want to do is fight and cause chaos,” Doetzel told reporters. “Chairwoman Karamo was taking the Republican Party in a positive direction. She was trying to have communication with all of the people in Michigan, no matter what your political status.”
“Let’s call it what it is. It’s all white in there,” Doetzel said of the members voting Saturday. “Let’s not mistake this. You’ve got a Black woman in power, a Christian, and they don’t want that.”
Doetzel is white.
About a dozen supporters of Karamo also gathered Saturday afternoon outside the small indoor gun-range building in Commerce Township where the meeting was being held.
State GOP Committee member on policy Barry Doherty of Brandon Township said security would not allow him to enter the meeting. Before the vote, Doherty said the gathering was not an officially called meeting of the state Republican Party and any actions taken would not be official.
“We’re here to let people know — other state committee members know — that next week is the meeting that is official that business is conducted and they can bring their grievances to that meeting,” Doherty said.
Doherty said that he and others support Karamo and her stance on election integrity and other issues. “I’m concerned that the people on the inside don’t see that and that good progress that is happening,” he said.
Doherty said some attending Saturday’s meeting are “state committee members and guests.”
“There are other state committee members who are not pleased with Kristina,” he added.
In February, Karamo was elected by grassroots activists alongside her co-chair, Malinda Pego, to lead the state party through the 2024 elections. Less than a year later, Pego signed onto a petition seeking a vote on removing Karamo.
Eight of the state party’s 13 congressional district chairs called on Karamo to resign last week, citing financial instability stemming from insufficient fundraising and asking Karamo to “put an end to the chaos in our party” by stepping down.
Karamo has refused to resign and promised not to leave if ousted at the meeting, calling the gathering “illegal” in a recent podcast posted on the Michigan GOP website. It’s unclear whether enough party members attended for the Saturday afternoon gathering to be official.
Karamo did not respond to multiple requests for comment by The Associated Press.
Party members formally began pursuing Karamo’s removal in early December, obtaining 39 state committee members’ signatures on a petition calling for a special meeting to consider the change.
To oust Karamo, opponents would need to submit signatures on Saturday from at least half of the state party’s nearly 100 committee members. The approval of 75% of attending state committee members would then be required, though a proposed amendment passed Saturday to lower the threshold to 60%, said Moeggenberg, who added that it wasn’t needed.
The state party still will need to make significant strides quickly if it hopes to affect the 2024 election.
The party, according to Karamo, had nearly $500,000 in debt as of October, with another $110,000 owed to actor Jim Caviezel for a speaking appearance. Karamo and the party are suing the trust that owns their headquarters with hopes of selling the building to pay off debts.
The turmoil comes less than two months before the state party will host a March 2 convention to divvy up 39 of the state’s 55 Republican presidential delegates. The other 16 delegates will be allocated based on the results of the Feb. 27 Republican primary.
Republicans are seeking to win a Senate seat in the state in November, a feat they haven’t achieved since 1994. The party also is looking to flip a narrow majority in the Michigan House after Democrats in 2022 won control of the state House and Senate, while retaining the governor’s office, for the first time in 40 years.