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Former Illinois Governors Back GOP Chair Pat Brady

 Illinois republican Chairman Pat Brady

Illinois republican Chairman Pat Brady announces a Republican Gubernatorial debate during Illinois Republican Party 2010 Gubernatorial debate at Hilton hotel in Chicago, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Two former Illinois governors say state Republican party bosses would be wrong to oust the GOP chairman following his public support of same-sex marriage, especially as the party looks ahead to the 2014 governor’s race.

Former Republican Govs. Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar urged the GOP State Central Committee to adopt a “big tent” approach as they head into a special meeting Saturday, when the panel could vote to oust Party Chairman Pat Brady.

“If they fire Pat Brady, it will further submerge the Republican Party in Illinois, which is at a pretty low point, anyway,” Thompson said.

Saturday’s possible vote comes at a critical juncture for Illinois Republicans. The party is still recuperating after across-the-board losses in November’s elections, while also trying to ramp up fundraising and win state-wide appeal among voters in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

Given the timing, Edgar said it would be unwise to fire Brady for his public support of same-sex marriage, as public sentiment is headed in the same direction.

“I think it’d be a mistake to use that as a reason to – to remove somebody who I think’s done a credible job,” Edgar said in an interview Thursday. “And it’s the wrong political decision as well as, I don’t think it’s the smartest thing to do.”

While Edgar said he personally opposes same-sex marriage, he added Republicans shouldn’t pick a party chairman based on ideology. Thompson, who said he supports same-sex marriage, said his party can only win independent voters if it tacks to the center on some social issues.

“If they vote Pat Brady out, they better have a damn fine candidate to replace him, rather than leave the party leaderless or rudderless or in the hands of somebody who can’t do the same good job that Pat does,” Thompson said. “That would be outrageous.”

Brady came under fire from some party bosses in January, after he issued a statement announcing his “full support” of same-sex marriage legislation in Springfield. State party bosses were blindsided by the move, saying Brady didn’t give them a head’s up before staking his position, which contradicts the GOP platform.

Late last month, seven state central committee members signed a letter calling for a special meeting to discuss “the financial status of the State Central Committee and plans to enhance the leadership image and appeal of the Republican Party of Illinois as we head into the critical 2014 elections.”

“Should they vote to remove me on the marriage equality issue, I think that’d send a terrible signal to the people of the state of Illinois that we’re a close-minded party, and we don’t welcome a diversity of opinion, even though that’s in our platform,” said Brady, who is traveling and does not plan to attend this weekend’s meeting.

Illinois State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a central committeeman from Sugar Grove, has repeatedly called for Brady’s resignation since January and has worked behind the scenes to organize Saturday’s meeting. Despite the timing, he said his opposition isn’t just about the same-sex marriage flap.

“You cannot have the chair of an organization publicly going out and lobbying in opposition to the organization’s stated goals. Doesn’t matter what the goal is. It would have been exactly the same result if he had lobbied in favor of Obamacare,” Oberweis said, adding that the chairman’s announcement diverted attention from the GOP’s message of fiscal conservatism at a time when lawmakers were supposed to be debating the state’s pension crisis.

Oberweis also dinged Brady for November’s tough election losses, and for inserting himself in a recent GOP primary. But he said Brady’s handling of the same-sex marriage announcement was the last straw.

Ousting a party chairman requires three-fifths of the state committee’s weighted votes, but it’s unclear whether Brady’s detractors have enough backing to fire him. Only two of the 18 party bosses responded to interview requests.

Committeeman Roger Claar, the mayor of Bolingbrook, wouldn't say how he'd vote on Saturday. But he said the public infighting over same-sex marriage is hurting the party.

“I have talked to people on the street that are concerned that we continue to alienate people,” Claar said. “And having a meeting to go in and fire somebody – which is really the intent of this, by some – is a kangaroo court and will do nothing but prolong the story and get us more bad press.”