OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As Republicans prepare for some of the party's biggest names to descend on Oklahoma for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, the state party is being rocked by infighting over its new chairman's decision to retain a staffer who pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge.
Former state Sen. Randy Brogdon, a tea party favorite who ousted the incumbent GOP chairman last month, has publicly defended his hiring of Thomas Clint Ryan, who court records show pleaded guilty in 2012 to domestic assault and battery in the presence of a minor and interference with an emergency telephone call, both misdemeanors.
"The Republican Party is the Party of hope and second chances," Brodgon said in a statement Wednesday. "We have many members from diverse backgrounds, some with a sorted (sic) past who have found a home in the GOP, as a volunteer, in an appointed position, or as an elected official."
After several elected Republican officials criticized Ryan's appointment as the party's executive director, Brogdon announced he was making Ryan political director, a move that angered several members who had called for Ryan's resignation.
"It is totally unacceptable for someone with that recent criminal background of that nature to be employed in any capacity by the Oklahoma Republican Party," said Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City. "I have zero tolerance for domestic violence, and I believe that my political party should feel the same way."
All three of Oklahoma's female Republican state senators issued a joint statement last week calling for Ryan's immediate removal from any position within the party.
The controversy has clearly roiled the party, which has enjoyed unparalleled success in Oklahoma over the last decade by winning every congressional seat, every statewide elected office and extending its majorities in the state House and Senate.
"There's a lot of people who are angered and outraged, even some of Brogdon's longtime supporters and friends," said Oklahoma County Republican Party Chairman Daren Ward. "For some reason, he feels that his position is right and he's not budging."
The division within the party comes just as Oklahoma City prepares to host nearly the entire field of 2016 Republican presidential contenders at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is speaking at a $100-a-plate fundraiser for the Oklahoma Republican Party, is among the attendees. Others include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Southern Republican Leadership Conference: www.srlc.gop
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