OKLAHOMA CITY—Behind the scenes of a major GOP conference, top Oklahoma Republicans have been plotting to oust their state party’s political director and, if necessary, the chairman of the party for protecting him.
Thomas Clint “T.C.” Ryan, the political director, pleaded guilty in 2012 to domestic-assault charges. Earlier this month, Oklahoma GOP Chairman Randy Brogdon refused calls for Ryan’s resignation, instead shifting him from his newly appointed position of executive director to political director to quiet the critics.
But that clearly was not enough. Now, as the Southern Republican Leadership Conference gets underway and 2016 contenders line up to speak, discussions aimed at removing both Ryan and Brogdon are intensifying behind closed doors, according to three sources involved.
Brogdon, these sources say, knows the plotting is happening behind his back and, according to those Republican officials, isn’t backing down, instead opting to keep protecting his close friend.
Brodgon only won the chairmanship last month. The controversy began when he appointed Ryan, 31, as the state party’s executive director. Ryan not only admitted to the domestic assault but to “battery in the presence of a minor and interference with an emergency telephone call, both misdemeanors,” according to the Associated Press.
A number of party officials, including female state lawmakers, voiced their disapproval about Ryan’s appointment, and they weren’t satisfied with Brogdon’s solution, saying instead that Ryan should not be working for the state party in any capacity.
“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,” state Sen. David Holt said this week, according to the AP. “I have zero tolerance for domestic violence, and I believe that my political party should feel the same way.”
Oklahoma GOP leaders had hoped to resolve the issue before this week’s three-day GOP summit meant to spotlight the state’s successes and the party’s presidential hopefuls. But with Brogdon digging in his heels and refusing to get rid of Ryan, the focus has shifted to ousting the chairman himself. By Friday evening, the planning had escalated to the point where officials were debating “a plan of succession” to follow once Brogdon is removed, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
Brogdon had, according to sources, reached an agreement with GOP leaders for Ryan to take a leave of absence while his case was further investigated. But Brodgon reneged on that arrangement, party officials say, telling a group of them this week: “I can’t do this job without T.C.”
With Brogdon refusing to get rid of Ryan, GOP officials here have begun exploring options for removing the chairman himself. There will first be measures taken to force out Ryan, beginning with the state GOP’s budget committee eliminating his position as political director. If Brogdon overrules that maneuver, as expected, the Republican state committee—a body of more than 200 officials from across Oklahoma—would have the power to remove Brogdon from the chairmanship.
Brogdon and Ryan could not be reached on Friday for comment.
Party officials hope to have this resolved in the next several weeks—whether by forcing only Ryan out or by cleaning house altogether.
Yet in some ways, the damage will have already been done. This week’s conference featured a panel objecting to the narrative of a Republican “war on women,” which was overshadowed, some officials said, by the Ryan controversy.
Ben Carson, the recently announced presidential candidate, is headlining a Friday night fundraising dinner for the Oklahoma Republican Party. Also speaking at the event is Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz, who was initially slated to give the keynote speech but had to cancel because of votes in Congress.
There are efforts underway to neutralize the negative attention garnered this week by the intraparty turmoil. An official involved in the event-planning said that Carson will be introduced at Friday’s dinner by David Lewis, a prominent local business leader, who will make a point of condemning domestic violence in his opening remarks.
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