Sat 8:40pm: Illinois GOP backs off attempt to oust chairman

CHICAGO – 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.