Anthony Miller, the Republican Party's chairman in Ahwatukee Foothills' legislative district, resigned Monday, citing intimidation by Tea Party and far right activists and a fear for his family's safety.
Jeff Kolb, spokesman for the Legislative District 20 GOP, and the group's secretary, Sophia Johnson, also submitted their resignations.
"I'm not going to get shot or my family shot for what is a volunteer position," said Miller, who is believed to be the first black Republican district chairman in Arizona, first elected by party activists to the post in 2009. He's also an Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee member.
His resignation comes in the wake of the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson), and the killing of several others, including a federal judge, at a political rally over the weekend. Although there have been no links discovered between the shooter, Jared Loughner, and the Tea Party, political opponents have blamed the movement and one of its major figures, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, for creating an atmosphere that encourages violence.
Last month, Miller was re-elected to his second term as district chairman following the November general election, which saw Democratic incumbents like U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) and state Rep. Rae Waters (D-Ahwatukee Foothills) unseated in favor of Republican candidates.
Miller said the recent party election involved infighting between Miller and his allies and a "radical" local Tea Party faction calling itself the "New Vision" slate.
"There's trouble within the Republican Party," he said. "I'm seeing this new faction, the Sarah Palin type of Republicans."
Of the New Vision slate – consisting of Bill Baxter, Jeni White, and James Troutman, who won election to party leadership positions, and former Congressional candidate Mark Spinks and Tom Morrissey, who did not – only White returned repeated phone messages seeking comment.
White, a co-founder of the Tukee TEA Party, said the recent shootings have been stressful and traumatic, and have stirred up people’s emotions.
“(Miller) made a personal decision based on his feelings and we need to respect those feelings,” she said. “This is a sensitive time and a sensitive matter and we’re trying to bring some calm and rationality to it.”
A.J. Wells, another Tukee TEA Party co-founder, said that although White was also a cofounder, her group is not officially involved in the dispute.
“Whatever might be happening within LD 20 has nothing to do with the (Tukee TEA Party.) We are two totally separate groups,” Wells said.
Ed Pellegrino, who successfully ran for a party vice-chairmanship at Miller's prompting, said the acrimony was a vestige of last year's primary race between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and challenger and Tea Party favorite J.D. Hayworth. Miller worked as a staffer on McCain's re-election bid, while the New Vision slate supported Hayworth.
"In my opinion it was a McCain vs. J.D. Hayworth kind of backdrop," Pellegrino said. "There was some obvious tension."
Miller said the trouble began at a Hayworth rally before the election where he said he was seen as not being conservative enough for the party.
And, Miller said, "There's a racial component to it. There's a lot of ugliness."
White said she is not aware of any reports of anyone feeling threatened at Tukee Tea Party or LD20 GOP meetings.
“We haven’t noticed any expression of racism, violence or hostility toward anyone,” she said.
Kolb said he is not aware of any specific threat, but it was clear the opposing faction was not pleased with Miller.
"The hope was that people would put their differences aside, but from the election forward, it was just ugly," he said. "Things got heated. It's hard to say what people will do. Things were definitely not cordial or polite."
In his resignation letter, Kolb said the atmosphere had been hostile since the election.
"I just don't want to be associated with a group of people that would treat their peers that way," he said.
Pellegrino said the tipping point came when one of the party officers, Miller supporter Roger Dickinson, was found ineligible to serve because he was not a precinct committeeman, a requirement of the group's bylaws. The New Vision slate seized on the issue, accusing Miller of not acting to remove Dickinson from the board, Pellegrino said.
"It became the opening that they wanted to try and make it appear as if Anthony would do whatever he wanted to do without following the rules," he said. "It became apparent that it would be difficult to work as a group because of the bad blood. It didn't seem like something that would go away."
Pellegrino said the party should be working to bring people into the fold, and not pushing out those who may not be deemed conservative enough.
"I don't try to use my philosophical positions as the benchmark to look at whether all the other individuals in the Republican Party are as conservative as me," he said. "That's a terrible way to run this precinct."
Miller said the political rhetoric has gotten out of control.
"All of this stuff needs to be toned down," he said.