It had been clear for a while now that Jack Kimball couldn’t continue as GOP chairman.
The brewing troubles of the state GOP finally culminated last Thursday, Sept. 1, when Kimball resigned as chairman.
But Kimball’s departure doesn’t necessarily mean the trouble is in the past. The question now is whether the party will unite in the face of adversity or grow farther apart.
Kimball’s surprise resignation, after he’d pledged to make executive committee members look him in the eye and vote him out, caught his more than 50 supporters at the meeting off guard. It apparently caught executive committee members off guard as well. Of the 36 members, as many as 30 were expected to vote him out, reports indicated.
After a hug from state GOP finance chairman Bill Binnie, whom Kimball brought on in June to right the party’s financial ship, Kimball called the meeting to order and told the crowd he couldn’t “stand to have what is going on now.” To a few cries of “Don’t do it, Jack,” Kimball told the crowd he was tendering his resignation.
“This isn’t about me,” he said. “It never has been. There is no ego here. This party needs to be unified, and I will not stand in the way of that. So tonight, sadly, very sadly, because I’m not sure this is helping anything, I am tendering my resignation.”
The congressional delegation, which had called for Kimball to step down last month, issued a joint statement following Kimball’s resignation:
“Outgoing chairman Jack Kimball gave the New Hampshire Republican Party an invaluable gift tonight. He put the best interests of the NH GOP ahead of all other considerations, and we are grateful for that. We thank him for his service to our party. Now we can move forward with unity. Republicans will work side by side to spread our shared message of job creation and fiscal responsibility and to elect GOP candidates. Let’s seize this moment and, together, make it a new beginning for all New Hampshire Republicans.”
Not about him?
There is little dignity in this for Kimball. He probably saved some by not making the committee vote him out. We’ll never know just how much of the storm was Kimball’s own fault, or the fault of some faction within the party, but within the last two weeks or so it became clear his future as chairman was soon coming to an end. The wounds were too deep.
At first, though, Kimball tried to be defiant in the face of adversity. He called a press conference saying he would not resign and would make the committee vote him out. Then, in the days leading up to the meeting, he sent a memo to the committee explaining how he would right the ship, almost pleading with members. And then, he resigned. If only he’d made that call sooner.
Kimball was criticized for poor fundraising, for two special election losses and for signing a petition to place the Libertarian Party on the ballot — he cleared up that last one. He also drew fire for firing executive director Will Wrobleski. His ability to understand the mechanics of running a party were questioned. That he wasn’t sticking up for GOP leaders — that he simply wasn’t vocal enough.
Kimball made mistakes, for sure, but in hindsight it’s apparent he really took over the party at a thankless time. For one, former governor John Sununu was a tough act to follow, especially after historic election victories in 2010. And whether it was Sununu at the helm or not, Republicans were going to do well in 2010. Given that, it is highly unlikely that Republicans won’t lose seats in the state legislature in 2012, whether Kimball, Sununu or someone else is chairman.
All the while Democrats had to be licking their chops — although, with the presidential primary in full swing, a lot of words and space has been given to GOP issues, whether positive or negative, while Democrats have had a tougher time breaking through.
Looking ahead for the party
Wayne MacDonald, a long-time party activist, took over the party. He had been vice-chairman since 2003. But that’s not without issue. MacDonald is a state employee, so it’s unclear how MacDonald and the party would handle his position with the state, which would presumably make it difficult for him to attack Gov. John Lynch, who is, well, his boss. MacDonald is expected to stay on as chairman until January 2013. Maybe he’ll be able to delegate Lynch attacks.
Political analyst Dean Spiliotes said New Hampshire was reflective of the national fight between the tea party and the Republican establishment.
Presidential candidates clearly aren’t going to avoid New Hampshire because of the issues the state party faces, as several candidates visited the state even during the thick of the controversy. But the controversy could have longer-term impacts in terms of candidate recruitment and in upcoming special elections. It will also affect which outside groups funnel political money to the state, Spiliotes said.
If the perception for the tea party is that Kimball, who calls himself a tea partier, was treated poorly, national groups might be less likely to jump into the state with their money.
“I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but it’s definitely a microcosm for what’s happening nationally,” Spiliotes said.
Looking ahead for Kimball
He says he’s not going away. Well, first, he laughed and told reporters following his resignation announcement he needed to take his wife on a vacation.
But it’s unclear where he might or could resurface politically. It was a meteoric rise and fall. The owner of a commercial cleaning company, Kimball ran for governor in 2010 and lost to John Stephen in the GOP primary. Then he rode a surge of tea party support to beat Sununu’s hand-picked successor Juliana Bergeron to become chairman.
Kimball, who said it was entirely a personal decision, said he made the decision to resign two days prior to the meeting. (So why not resign then, rather than bringing it to the full meeting?) He said there was no deal; reports indicated that Kimball may have been trying to broker a deal to get money for the party in exchange for his resignation.
A positive spin for tea partiers
Andrew Hemingway, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, urged tea party activists to convert any frustration over Kimball’s departure into efforts to help elect liberty-minded candidates like themselves.
“Jack Kimball’s resignation from the party chairman position was the right thing for him to do to help unify the Republican Party and help everyone involved with the party move beyond this unfortunately divisive situation,” Hemingway said.
“In addition, Jack Kimball’s resignation from the chairman position is the perfect opportunity for Tea Party activists, movement conservatives and all liberty-loving Republicans to unite under another common goal; namely, working with the RLCNH to elect more principled and effective Republicans who value limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, free enterprise and the New Hampshire and United States constitutions,” Hemingway said in a statement.