Martin promises to bring GOP factions together and to direct 'hostile' talk solely at Democrats
St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin doesn’t dispute the portrayal of his election as Missouri’s new Republican Party chairman as a victory for the state party’s conservative wing.
But he adds, “It’s not a hostile takeover.”
To that end, Martin says he plans to focus on reaching out to all likely Republicans – fiscal and social conservatives and moderates – as part of an effort to enlarge the party’s “tent” and improve its election chances.
He also plans to take his time before making any major changes in the party’s staff in Jefferson City.
Martin ousted previous chairman David Cole in a tight contest. He said he already has contacted all the state’s Republican members of Congress, who had signed a joint letter backing Cole’s re-election prior to Saturday’s balloting by the 68 members of the party’s state committee.
Martin says he holds no grudges against any of Cole's backers. U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, was among several who have praised Martin or offered encouragement since the vote.
The Martin-Cole contest, which also involved outgoing state Sen. Jane Cunningham, was the first high-profile election for Missouri state GOP chairman since at least the early 1990s, insiders say. Cole's defeat was triggered in part by the state GOP's weak showing in the Nov. 6 elections.
Martin's challenge now, said some party activists privately, will be to ease internal party tensions while also raising money to give the state party financial muscle. A danger sign, some add, will be if prominent GOP candidates set up independent political operations apart from the state party.
Martin said he plans to make it worthwhile for party candidates and activists to stick together. He promises to focus on upgrading the party's voter database, which he said proved to be outdated and inadequate last fall.
He says that party leaders and donors also need to recognize that the Missouri Republican Party must rely on itself and can no longer expect national campaign financial help because "we're no longer a presidential battleground state."
No more plans to run for office himself
Only 42, Martin has been a colorful – and, at times, controversial – figure in Missouri politics for years. He lost two bids for office, for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and for Missouri attorney general last fall. He also chaired the state GOP's 2012 get-out-the-vote effort.
Martin said he touted his candidacies and campaign skills as he sought the party chairmanship, which he noted is an unpaid post.
He said he's proud of the support and help he received from such major national players, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who called GOP state committee members) and former Sen. Rick Santorum. Even former Speaker Newt Gingrich offered his assistance, Martin said.
Martin said he has no plans to run for office again but expects to use his experiences as a candidate to shape what he hopes will be a more successful two-year tenure as party chairman.
Among his top objectives for the 2014 elections? Getting state Auditor Tom Schweich re-elected and recruiting a strong GOP candidate for St. Louis County executive.
Martin, who isn't discussing any differences with Cole, said he also sees a key aspect of the party chairman’s job as bolstering state GOP leaders who control the General Assembly, as they press their cases to cut taxes, curb spending and oppose the proposed expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.
He also appears eager to take on the state’s top Democrats, asserting repeatedly in an interview that Gov. Jay Nixon is “a politically bankrupt politician” who has played down his liberal tendencies, in Martin’s view, by campaigning as a moderate. Martin launched a similar jab at Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
“Every time we’ve been able to make clear the differences on our positions and policies, we win,” Martin said, referring to Republicans. “We have a harder time when we’re beaten soundly on the money disadvantage, or the voters have been misled by candidates who claim they’re something they’re not.
“I think the party can help define the other candidates on the other side,” Martin continued. “We have a very stark contrast. President Obama has laid bare what the Democrat agenda is, its size and scope.”
Martin contended that Nixon is now doing the same, by his recent call for Missouri to expand its Medicaid rolls, in line with the recommendations of Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. The governor’s allies include the Missouri Hospital Association.
Martin said that GOP leaders need to make clear to the public that they’re not against health care – just “a government takeover.’’
Democrats cite Martin's past
Missouri Democratic Party chairman Mike Sanders, who’s also Jackson County executive, has repeatedly blasted Martin since his election.
Martin is portrayed as “cut from the same cloth’’ as failed Republican U.S. Senate nominee Todd Akin, who lost badly to McCaskill after publicly asserting that victims of “legitimate rape’’ rarely get pregnant because of hormonal protections.
“The Todd Akin wing of the Missouri Republican Party has taken over with a very clear message: mainstream and moderate Missourians no longer welcome,” Sanders said.
The Democratic chairman asserted that Martin has a pattern of a “troubled history of ethical misconduct, racially inflammatory comments and the same extreme positions on women’s issues that crippled Akin’s U.S. Senate bid.”
Among other things, Sanders points to email records during Martin’s tenure as chief of staff to then-Gov. Matt Blunt, which became public during a two-year probe focusing on Martin’s actions to delete or destroy emails in the governor’s office in apparent violation of the state’s record-preservation laws.
In one 2007 email to Blunt, and later made public by various news outlets, Martin disparaged then-Judge Nanette Baker, one of the finalists for a state Supreme Court post. Martin called her “the worst I have ever seen… She is a black woman, pro-abort and very liberal.”
City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, a Democrat who previously has worked with Martin, said Tuesday she found such comments to be “highly offensive and shocking.”
Jones added that she had held a better opinion of Martin during his earlier stint in 2005 and 2006 overseeing and revamping the St. Louis Election Board.
Martin didn’t dispute the email but contended that “there’s a kind of a ‘gotcha’ quality to this. “
“When Mike Sanders and the Democrat Party stoop to casting aspersions and slurs about somebody, it’s an indication of their own desperation,” Martin said. “I would be desperate, too, if I was Mike Sanders because I’ve got to defend Obamacare and a politically bankrupt politician like Jay Nixon.”
Martin has been an outspoken social conservative, citing his opposition to abortion and gay marriage. In his new post, Martin said he will stick with his views -- but his emphasis will be economic issues that he says affect everything else.
If the GOP's views are presented accurately, he said, it will once again be "a majority party’’ supported by a majority of voters.
He contended that the Democrats' policies, in Washington and Jefferson City, present a "devastating threat to economic freedom.”