Wednesday, March 12, 2014
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Mark Willis, Republican National Committeeman for Maine, and 11 others have quit the party.
2013 Kennebec Journal File Photo / Joe Phelan
Libertarian or "Liberty Movement" Republicans, representing a small but growing faction, have clashed with more mainstream "establishment" leaders since winning control of state parties in Maine and several other states last year. The discord has been pronounced in Maine, as shown by a high-profile internal fight that spilled onto the floor of the Republican National Convention last year and the recent resignations of the state party's two top officials.
National committee members from around the country gathered in Boston last weekend to discuss ways of broadening and strengthening the party before next year's gubernatorial and congressional elections. Yet the recent public spat between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and libertarian favorite Sen. Rand Paul -- both likely presidential contenders -- underscored the internal divisions.
Priebus, speaking to ABC News on Sunday, portrayed it as "a healthy family debate."
But it's clear that Willis and others are still smarting over what happened at the Republican National Convention one year ago this month.
Coming into the convention, nearly all of Maine's elected delegates supported presidential candidate Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who had become the face of the party's libertarian movement. But after a protracted fight within the state party, national party leaders replaced half of the slate of Paul delegates from Maine with supporters of nominee Mitt Romney.
That ensured Maine would cast its official vote for Romney, but not before Maine's pro-Paul delegates -- joined by Paul supporters from other states -- waged a loud but short-lived fight on the convention floor.
The "Maine delegates" became the face of opposition to rules changes enacted at the convention that critics contend will weaken the influence of grass-roots activists at the national level and make it harder for upstart candidates like Paul to contend for the nomination.
Last weekend in Boston, the national committee soundly rejected a resolution sponsored by Willis and adopted by the Maine State Republican Committee to essentially nullify the 2012 rules.
Asked whether giving up his seat at the state and national levels is also giving up his voice, Willis replied: "That argument would only apply if your voice was being heard and you could actually make changes. It's very clear at the national level that our voices are not being heard."
Bennett respectfully disagreed.
"I found the energy coming from those aligned with the 'Liberty Movement' to be terrific," said Bennett, adding that the movement has helped draw more young people into the party. "I think all of that has been very good for our party."
Ashley Ryan, Maine's third representative to the Republican National Committee and a Paul supporter at the 2012 convention, also had a different take than Willis on the party's evolution.
Ryan could not be reached Monday but told Politico over the weekend that the co-chairwoman of the national committee, Sharon Day, had talked to her about bringing more women into the party.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: email@example.com