Pima County Republican Party leaders voted late Thursday to take away party chairman Brian Miller's keys to the GOP headquarters and called a special meeting to try to remove him from his post.
Miller has been under fire from party stalwarts for the past month, with meetings called in recent weeks after he criticized a SWAT raid in May that resulted in the shooting death of a man law enforcement officers suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.
Several elected officials and party leaders have complained his comments pitted the party against law enforcement at a time when city elections are looming and candidates are gearing up for bigger 2012 races.
After raising questions about the amount of police force used in serving the search warrant, Miller said he hoped the incident would foster a community discussion of "the policies that routinely lead to heavily armed and militarized local police invading private homes, and a renewed interest in the civil liberties codified in our Bill of Rights."
Miller was given an opportunity to resign but refused, triggering a 10-2 vote by the executive committee essentially stripping him of his powers until a meeting to remove him can be held.
Party insiders say to some degree, the fight reflects a rift between some of the more libertarian-leaning members of the party, and other more traditional party members.
Even before the SWAT controversy raised hackles, there was some concern over a comment he made after the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson that left six dead and 13 injured when state lawmakers moved to establish a no-protest zone around funerals. At the time, he expressed concern about infringement on First Amendment rights.
Barney Brenner, a member of the committee who voted to seek Miller's removal, said he wished Miller had resigned to help heal the party.
Regardless of whether Miller meant for it to happen, Brenner said the chairman's words damaged the party and the ability of its candidates to raise money and support.
"This is solely about the best interests of the Pima County Republican Party," Brenner said.
Miller, who said he's been consistent in defending the Constitution, said it is the executive committee that has kept the controversy in the forefront, by continuing to call meetings to complain about his leadership.
"This is a political witch hunt," he said, adding, "If they wanted it dropped, they would have dropped it three weeks ago."
Jill Henderson, a precinct committeewoman who supports Miller, said the email was blown out of proportion. She said she believes some acted because they believe his removal will help stabilize the party, but others, she said, have "ulterior motives."
"The latter group is scared of what Brian represents and scared of bringing in new blood and fresh ideas. They feel they can't leash him the way they want to," she said.
The ouster meeting has yet to be scheduled, but officials are aiming for the weekend of July 15.
Because there is no mechanism to remove an elected officer, a majority of precinct committeemen have to approve a change in bylaws. After that vote, a two-thirds vote of the elected precinct committeemen will be required to remove Miller from office.
If the effort is successful, Mike Shaw, the party's first vice chair, will serve as interim chairman until an election can be held within 60 days to name a replacement.
Shaw, who said he is considering running for the post, said he is confident the party can heal any rifts.
"We all agree to 85 to 95 percent of our issues. We're all conservatives. We just need to concentrate on what we agree on and link arms and move forward," he said, adding the party continues to organize walks for its two City Council candidates.
The issue might not go away so easily, though.
Miller said if he survives, he will call a special meeting to ask the precinct committeemen to vote on the performance of each member of the executive committee.
Contact Rhonda Bodfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4243.