Local GOP leaders have ousted Brian Miller as chairman of the Pima County Republican Party.
Miller was removed from office in a 181-43 vote of the party's precinct committee representatives Friday, said state Rep. Terri Proud, who represents District 26. Members lost confidence in Miller for a long list of issues that include butting heads with his executive committee, not doing enough to get Republican candidates elected and making public comments many found objectionable about everything from party finances to a recent SWAT team raid.
Mike Shaw, previously the local party's first vice chairman, was appointed interim chairman until a permanent chairman is selected.
"Brian brought this on himself. He isolated an entire group of Republicans," Proud said.
Although GOP leaders said problems have been simmering for some time, a call for Miller's removal came after he angered party stalwarts by criticizing a May SWAT raid that resulted in the shooting death of a man law enforcement officers suspected of involvement in drug trafficking. 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."
Several elected officials and party leaders said 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.
Miller was given an opportunity to resign but refused, triggering a 10-2 vote by the executive committee that essentially stripped him of his powers until a meeting to remove him was held.
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.
Miller's comments weren't the only thing that got him into trouble. Detractors also criticized him for his isolation from the executive committee.
Fellow Republican state Sen. Frank Antenori said Miller was not working to win elections or raise money for the party, which is the role of a party chairman. "You do not bring the party together by going after constituents who supported us in the past," said Antenori, explaining that Miller put down past party chairmen, precinct committeemen and law enforcement when he went on a radio talk show, "Inside Track" with host Emil Franzi, on KVOI-AM 1030 July 9.
Jeff Rogers, chairman of the local Democratic Party, said Miller's removal "is another example of the relentless purge of rational moderate Republicans who can't pass that purity test by Russell Pearce extremists.
"I think Brian Miller was a man of high integrity, and it is unfortunate for the Republicans," Rogers said. "But in the long run, it will be better for the Democrats."
Antenori called Rogers' comment about extremism in the state Republican party "off base and over the top."
For Miller, 35, an Air Force reservist who is an A-10 instructor at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, his removal "was sort of a culmination of a mutiny."
"It was disturbing to watch how some people in the executive committee behaved to clamp down on information from those who were in support of me," Miller said.
Miller described the county Republican Party as becoming "far too exclusive and largely politically irrelevant" because the "inner circle" wants to remain in control. He said youth in the party will bring generational differences and ideas, but the old guard is uncomfortable when that happens.
Proud and Antenori said Shaw will bring stability to the party, and it can now focus on the City Council elections.
On Thursday, the party will have its regularly scheduled 5:30 p.m. meeting at its headquarters, 5447 E. Fifth St., in Suite 100, and it will plan a special election to elect a permanent chairman within 60 days, Shaw said.
He said the party must come together and go to work to continue raising money for candidates Rick Grinnell, who is running for mayor as a write-in; Tyler Vogt, who is running for City Council Ward 4; and Jennifer Rawson, who is running for City Council Ward 2.
"We definitely need to come together as a party, reunite and be as strong as ever and get conservatives elected to office because conservatism works," said Shaw.
Shaw said the party welcomes youth and diversity, but "in the process of adding people to the party we do not want to lose the people who are in the party. We will work hard to add to the party without dividing it."
Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or firstname.lastname@example.org