Drama in RNC election as Ron Paul supporter makes run for chairman

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Some last minute drama has been injected into the race for chairman of the Republican National Committee as a national committeeman from the Ron Paul wing of the party is mounting a last minute effort to challenge Reince Priebus for chairman.

But as he tries to get support for his bid, Mark Willis of Maine is facing questions from other Republicans on the committee about whether he broke party rules and supported Paul as a write-in for president over GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election, The Daily Caller has learned.

The reason for these questions: Willis was actually listed on the 2012 general election ballot in Maine as a declared write-in running mate to Paul, the Texas libertarian.

Had he voted for himself and Paul over Romney, Willis could be removed from the committee, according to party rules. Republican Party rule 4(b) says, “The Republican National Committee shall have the power to declare vacant the seat of any member who refuses to support the Republican nominee for President of the United States or Vice President of the United States.”

But in an interview with The Daily Caller on Thursday, Willis strongly disputed that he supported Paul in the general election and said he had nothing to do with being listed as a write-in candidate on the ballot. He said he supported Romney.

“I had nothing to do with it,” Willis said by phone of his addition to the ballot. “I had no knowledge of it. No consent. I found out about it after the fact. After it had been done.”

Critics on the committee, however, remain skeptical, pointing out that Willis did not try to have his name removed. He also didn’t publicly denounce his addition to the ballot.

“When it was brought to my attention, I had to make a judgment call as to what is the right thing to do for the state of Maine,” Willis explained to TheDC. “And I made the judgment call to just not do anything, keep it quiet, don’t talk about it, don’t draw attention to it.”

The Daily Caller obtained an email sent to committee members on Wednesday night from California national committeeman Shawn Steel, who said he spoke to Willis but still was skeptical of his story.


Dear Colleague:


We all appreciate a good political race. Mark Willis, the newly elected Maine National Committeeman, recently announced he is running for RNC Chair. I take these RNC elections seriously. Without a President in the White House, our National Chairman becomes a dominant voice of our Party. We must have a seasoned leader ready for national politics.


I learned that Mark Willis was listed as an official and “declared” write-in candidate on the state of Maine’s 2012 general [September] election ballot – serving as Ron Paul’s Vice Presidential running mate – and standing against the Republican Presidential nominee and Vice-Presidential running mate. The following link will take you the State of Maine Secretary of State’s Office listing of declared write-in candidates for the November 2012 ballot. Mark Willis is the second name on the list, listed as Ron Paul’s running mate. In the “Date Filed” column it shows that the required forms were filed with the Maine Secretary of State on September 24, 2012 – almost a full month after the Republican National Convention where we officially nominated Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan.


By not supporting the Republican nominee, Mark could be in violation of Rule 4(b) of the Rules of the Republican Party, which is grounds for removal from the committee. This has got to cause a major dilemma for Mr. Willis. I took my concerns to Mark directly. He alleged that his name was put on the official state ballot without his permission. I suppose anything is possible, but that alone raises more questions.


I understand the ambition of a new Member wanting to run for a high RNC office. Moreover, debate is always valuable for the Membership. But given the strange Maine ballot experience, Mark may want to find another time to consider a run for the Party’s top position after he has more experience in national politics.


Shawn Steel


On Thursday, Willis, who said he’s spoken to Priebus and Steel about the issue, said those Republicans pushing this story have “got it wrong.”

“In the state of Maine, somebody could put your name down for president or VP without your permission,” he said. “The law is open on that.”

As for running in the Jan. 25 chairman’s election at the committee’s winter meeting in Charlotte, N.C., Willis is certainly a long shot as Priebus appears to have the election already locked up.

Sources inside the committee tell TheDC that Priebus already has commitments from nearly 150 members. There are 168 Members on the RNC, and 85 votes are needed to win.

Under party rules, Willis needs two committee members from at least three states to even be nominated, and it’s not clear yet if he’ll reach that threshold.

The 43-year-old acknowledged his long-shot odds in a Thursday interview, but said he’s doing everything he can to earn support between now and next week. “I’m pushing forward into Charlotte next week and I’m talking to a lot of RNC members around the country,” he said.

Willis lives on a 20-acre coastal farm in Dennysville, Maine with his family and raises Icelandic sheep, heritage turkeys, chickens and ducks. He’s a former counter-intelligence agent with the U.S Army and has a law degree from George Mason University.

He said he was approached to run for chairman “a couple weeks ago” by “some folks from the grassroots in Maine.”

“After the election in November, with the bad results that came about, I figured somebody would step up and run against Mr. Priebus,” Willis said.

This race isn’t the first time he’s challenged the establishment at the RNC: Willis, a former Paul delegate to the RNC chairman, led a memorable walk out during the national convention in Tampa of furious Maine delegates in protest over the national party’s refusal to seat 10 delegates from the state who pledged support to Paul.

“I was one of the 10 that was cut,” he said.

That experience is fresh in his mind as he campaigns against Priebus.

“Reince Priebus oversaw the convention and allowed the rule changes to happen that cut the grassroots out in 2016 unless they are changed,” Willis said.

“After the elections in November and the disappointing results, most leaders at the top of an organization with that type of track record probably most likely wouldn’t run again,” he said of Priebus.

Willis said if elected, he would bring a “fresh, innovative approach” and offer “solutions that I believe are timely and vital to restoring good faith and success in the Republican Party.”

Among his promises: Willis said he would get rid of RNC consultants.

“This is a sentiment – not just of Mark Willis, but this a sentiment of people like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and a lot of people from the grassroots as well – saying these consultants are getting paid millions of dollars and they’re over promising and under delivering,” he said.

On Thursday, Willis released an eight-point plan platform for his campaign:


1. Adherence to the 2009 Resolution in Support of Good Governance to put out RFP’s for all contracts over $100,000 while ensuring quality services from each agreement.


2. Repeal the RNC rules adopted in Tampa. They are cutting the grassroots out of the 2016 Presidential election cycle.


3. Re-establish the relationship with the GOP by encouraging a decentralized approach with more autonomy for state parties and adopting ideas from the bottom up.


4. Implementation of up-to-date technology systems is essential to victories and the chairman should be familiar to ensure efficiency.


5. Bring back those who have left the Republican Party. They deserve respect Independents and disillusioned Democrats should feel at home with the RNC.


6. Fight every single day for conservative values. Renew the spirit of self reliance and share the message that Conservatism is the only hope for American prosperity.


7. Hold the party leaders accountable. Party officials should not be allowed to reward political insiders with benefits given by Republican donors.


8. New management style. The RNC needs leadership aligned with honesty and integrity which listens to and encourages members to bring forth bold innovative ideas.


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