SPRINGFIELD – Two Illinois Republicans are finding that for all the talk nationally of the GOP becoming more inclusive and appealing to voters by softening stances on social issues, it’s difficult to actually follow through.
The state Republican Party’s central committee will meet today to consider firing Chairman Pat Brady, largely because he spoke out in favor of a bill to end Illinois’ ban on gay marriage. And the only Republican state senator to vote in favor of same-sex marriage, Sen. Jason Barickman, has been chastised by his colleagues and a national organization opposing the measure.
Brady and Barickman say they’ve heard from hundreds of people since taking their positions earlier this year – some were thankful, others excoriated them. A conservative organization even posted Brady’s cellphone number online and his voice mail quickly filled up while on vacation with words he said he “didn’t know were in the Bible.”
“This issue is not about me. It’s about the direction of the party going forward,” Brady said. “It just plays into a national narrative of the GOP as closed-minded.”
After a poor showing at the polls in November, national Republican Party leaders vowed to work harder to attract more young, moderate and minority voters – those who may be on board with the party fiscally speaking, but are turned off by the conservative views on social issues, such as immigration and gay rights.
Last month, more than 75 prominent Republicans, including four 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 step out on the ledge in order to instigate change risk getting pushed off, as their actions raise the ire of social conservatives, the Republicans most likely to vote in primaries and have leadership posts.
Rep. Tom Cross, the top Republican in the Illinois House, called Brady’s possible firing “a big mistake.”
“We’re a party that prides itself and often talks about having a big tent approach. And if we’re going to be a party that grows ... we need to acknowledge that ... we’re not always going to agree with each other 100 percent,” Cross said. “To me, you can be for (gay marriage), or you can be against it. But we ought to say to ‘You have a place in this party.’”
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, the state’s ranking Republican lawmaker, also believes it would be “a mistake” to remove Brady, spokesman Lance Trover said Friday. Kirk voted to end the policy on gays serving in the military, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and opposes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Illinois is a well-known Democratic stronghold, but Republicans did so poorly in November’s elections that Democrats now have veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate. Cross believes Republicans “turned a lot of people off” — particularly younger, suburban and minority voters who felt the GOP was trying to tell them how to live their lives.
Barickman’s vote helped the Illinois Senate approve gay marriage last month. Gov. Pat Quinn has signaled he’ll sign the bill to make Illinois the 10th state allowing gay marriage. But first, the House likely needs Republican votes to pass it, since not all Democrats support it.
An Associated Press analysis conducted last month shows Illinois isn’t the only place where Republicans are seeing that their gay marriage votes have consequences. Just 47 Republicans over eight state Legislatures have voted for gay marriage, the analysis found, and many said they paid for it – including losses in primary and general elections.
In Minnesota, where a vote to allow gay marriage could occur this spring, only one Republican state lawmaker has publicly backed it, state Sen. Branden Petersen. Soon after he declared his support, the National Organization for Marriage announced it would spend $500,000 to defeat Republican lawmakers in Minnesota who vote to legalize it.
That organization made a similar pledge against Illinois Republicans who votes yes, and has posted a link on its website for gay marriage opponents to email state GOP committeemen and tell them to fire Brady.
“Brady has betrayed his party, misrepresented ‘key Republican values,’ and insulted conservative voters in Illinois and across America,” the website states.
State Sen. Jim Oberweis is one of the GOP committeemen leading the charge to oust Brady. He said gay marriage isn’t the only reason he wants him gone; he also blames Brady for poor November election results and for working against some Republicans in primary elections.
If Brady opposed the party’s position on gay marriage, Oberweis said, he should have properly changed the GOP platform.
“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.”
Brady will be out of state with his family this weekend, and had asked the committee to reschedule. They declined, saying he could participate by phone, but Brady doesn’t plan to do so.
He said he still believes he took the right position, and that what the people who are trying to kick him out are doing is wrong.
Barickman said by working with Democrats, he was able to get an amendment added that protects religious freedom, so churches that oppose gay marriage won’t be forced to perform ceremonies or allow ceremonies in their sanctuaries.
“The discussion that’s happening on this issue is a healthy one for the Republican Party because it’s helping us find our identity,” Barickman said.
Asked if he had any advice for his Republican colleagues in the House, Barickman chose his words carefully, saying those who “stand strong on issues for which there are disagreements ... must have a thick skin.”
Associated Press writer Patrick Condon in St. Paul, Minn., contributed to this report.