Republicans clash over control of the Macomb Co. party, hold competing conventions

By: - August 11, 2022 3:19 pm

Macomb County GOP chair Eric Castiglia speaks to reporters at the GOP gubernatorial debate in Warren, June 30, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

The Macomb County GOP is embroiled in an ugly internal dispute over control of the party, and now plans to hold competing county conventions Thursday evening.

With less than three months before the general election, the battle is likely to play out in court and have far-reaching consequences for a party that is trying to maintain control of the Michigan Legislature and regain the positions of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state.

Macomb County, the third largest county in the state and a one-time Democratic stronghold, is now Michigan’s largest Republican-dominated county and is credited with delivering Trump his election victory here in 2016.

At Thursday’s convention, delegates will be selected to officially nominate the Republican candidates for attorney general, secretary of state, lieutenant governor, and other statewide positions.

Division, disarray mark Macomb County GOP convention

During a chaotic convention in April, the party ousted its chair, Mark Forton, and replaced him with Eric Castiglia, who seized control of the party’s executive committee.

But on Friday, Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Sabaugh ruled that Forton is the rightful leader because Castiglia’s supporters had violated bylaws by removing Forton without a formal trial.

Despite the judge’s order, a defiant Castiglia, backed by the Michigan GOP, scheduled Thursday’s county convention for 7 p.m. at the Royalty House in Warren, where Republicans are tasked with picking delegates for the Aug. 27 state convention.

Forton also scheduled a county convention for 7 p.m. at Shelby Gardens in Shelby Township.

Both leaders have instructed delegates to attend their respective conventions.

On Wednesday, Forton’s lawyer Daniel Hartman alleged in a court filing that Castiglia is in contempt of court for holding his own convention.

“I have seldom seen a more brazen disregard for the authority of a court in my 26-year legal career,” Hartman wrote in the filing.

“I have received many texts, emails, and social media messages that delegates are confused and feel as though they will be ineligible to attend the state convention if they attend the convention called by Mark Forton,” Hartman wrote.

“State Law and the Convention Rules require the County Chairman to call and convene the county convention by acting as the temporary chair of the committee,” he added.

Leadership of the Michigan Republican Party has sided with Castiglia after clashes with Forton, a Trump loyalist who has clashed with other Republicans for not fully backing the former president and the politicians he has endorsed.

In an email to precinct delegates Tuesday, Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser advised delegates to attend Castiglia’s convention at 7 p.m. at the Royalty House in Warren, making no mention of the court order.

Ron Weiser attends the GOP gubernatorial debate at the Mackinac Island Policy Conference, June 2, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

“The Michigan Republican Party recognizes Eric Castiglia as County Chairman in Macomb County,” Weiser wrote. “Any Precinct Delegate who wishes to attend State Convention must either attend that convention or send notice to Mr. Castiglia of their desire to attend.”

Responding to the email, Jazmine Early, a Sterling Heights Republican delegate, slammed Weiser, saying he was being “shameful and disrespectful.”

“It shows that you don’t have appreciation for the Rule of Law, and neither for standing for what is legally right,” Early wrote. “I never thought that I will come to this country to face what people think that only happens in third world countries. And because my love for this country goes far beyond politics, I will stand with the people that I represent. And in support of the official leader of the Macomb County Party, Mark Forton, as a leader in Macomb county we will stand for what is right. We will go to the Shelby Township convention, and so help us God.”

Mark Koroi, a Republican delegate in Macomb County, said he’s disappointed with the infighting and doesn’t know how the competing conventions will play out.

“The consensus appears to be that the state party is going to accept the Castiglia delegates from the Royalty House — even though the Judge appeared to say that Castiglia should not be credentialing delegates,” Koroi told the Metro Times in an email. “Purists say Forton won the court action and he is the true leader.”

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Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist with the Detroit Metro Times. He operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker, Neavling was a five-year veteran of the Detroit Free Press, covering Detroit’s city hall.