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Montco GOP dissidents want party chairman ousted

A group of Republican committee members in Montgomery County, unhappy with recent election losses, is considering an effort to oust party chairman Bob Kerns.

A group of Republican committee members in Montgomery County, unhappy with recent election losses, is considering an effort to oust party chairman Bob Kerns.

"Our purpose is to return Montgomery County to its prominence as a Republican County," said Joe Meo, a lawyer from Whitemarsh Township. "The question is, who is best to lead us? We don't like to lose."

Meo said 33 committee members attended a meeting of dissidents Saturday at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club. The group intends to hold a second meeting Saturday. It then plans to contact scores of GOP committee members to see if it has enough backing to challenge Kerns.

It would take signatures of 200 of the 805 committee members to force a party convention, at which a leadership vote could be taken.

Kerns, in an interview Monday, said he was not pleased with the Nov. 8 election results either. For the first time in more than a century, Democrats took control of the Norristown courthouse by winning two of three seats on the Board of Commissioners.

But Kerns said the dissidents, who call themselves Concerned Republican Committee People of Montgomery County, were a small minority in the party.

The group "wants to create a division," he said, "wants to create a problem."

Kerns was elected just last year to a four-year term as chairman.

His opponents say, however, that there is a glitch in the party bylaws that could be read as requiring a new election in a presidential election year, which 2012 is.

Meo called the bylaws "ambiguous." But Kerns, also a lawyer, said he was certain they would give him the right to serve until 2014.

"We got elected for four years," he said of his leadership team. "I am not holding a convention this coming year, to hold an election, when I am elected for four years."

The Montco GOP has been at war with itself for several years. It was split in the spring primary election between those who favored Commissioner Bruce Castor for reelection and those who backed former State Rep. Kate Harper.

Castor won in the general election. But Jenny Brown, his running mate, lost. Come next month, Castor will sit on the commissioners' board with Democrats Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards.

Meo said he did not know if the dissidents had the support to take on Kerns, but he said they intended to find out in coming weeks.

"If the committee wants new management," he said, "we will pursue that option."

Meo said that last winter's party convention gave some idea of the level of dissident feeling. He said 390 members - close to half - voted to endorse Harper for commissioner instead of Castor.

Castor himself has often been at odds with Kerns.

Kerns said that, since the election, he has received strong indication of support from the party's executive committee and from several area groups he has met with.

One issue against him has been the party's debt, which he said he has been paying down and which now stands at about $40,000.

Kerns said that amount was not bad considering that the party and its candidates for commissioner spent about $1.5 million on the election.

"I have to go out and start raising some money, which I am doing," Kerns said. "By the end of the year, we will have the large part of it paid off."

Bob Asher, a longtime GOP fund-raiser and national party committeeman from Montgomery County, also has often been at odds with Kerns. He responded "no comment" when asked how he felt about the dissidents' effort.

He said he was focused, instead, on the presidential election, along with next year's contests for statewide offices and congressional and legislative races.

Meo said that, if an election for party chairman were to be held, he himself would not be a candidate.