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Dale Stickel, Chairman of the Elkhart County Republican Central Committee. 11/7/08 PHOTO: UNK (AP)
Elkhart County GOP head to retire, replacement to be picked in March
Posted on Feb. 4, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Dale Stickel, chairman of the Elkhart County Republican Party, won’t seek re-election to the leadership post, paving the way for a new GOP head here.

There are already two people potentially interested in the post, and an elected leader and Republican Party member, Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder, says local party unity is potentially at stake.

“I do know there have been strong philosophical differences in the party,” Yoder said, alluding to divisions between conservative and more moderate GOP elements.

WHY HE’S STEPPING BACK

Stickel announced in a emailed GOP newsletter Saturday that he wouldn’t seek re-election on March 2, when local party leaders are to be selected to new four-year terms.

Contacted Monday, he said he wants to step back from the demands of the job and focus on other things. He was tabbed county GOP leader in November 2007 after his predecessor, Charles Wicks, stepped down to run for the Elkhart Superior Court 5 judgeship, a race Wicks won. Stickel was subsequently tabbed in 2009 to a full four-year term as chairman.

“I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been a good time, but I’m ready to move on in my life and enjoy my retirement a little more,” Stickel said. He retired 10 years ago from a job at Bayer.

Stickel also cited a need to have someone more technically savvy in the post, someone who can potentially tap social media to further the local GOP cause.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

The GOP chairman, a volunteer post, oversees efforts to find Republicans to help man the polls on Election Day. The officeholder also keeps precinct committeemen up to speed on GOP issues.

More broadly, whoever’s tabbed to the post will have to contend with balancing the varied views within the GOP, Stickel said. “It’s a real issue. There’s no question about it. It’s a challenge. That’s one of the challenges ahead of us, yes,” he said.

Yoder sees the party in Elkhart County split between conservative and moderate elements. He worries that if not properly addressed — if Republicans are lulled into complacency due to their historic dominance in countywide elections — Democrats could seize on the division and try to make inroads in future Elkhart County Council elections.

“This is something the party needs to deal with locally,” said Yoder. “We are divided philosophically.”

He pointed to the flap in 2011 over a controversial zoning ordinance proposal, which prompted strong opposition from tea party activists and others. More recently, he noted introduction by Indiana Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, of a bill in the Indiana General Assembly that would prohibit adoption of certain state laws inspired by United Nations Agenda 21, a tea party and conservative push nationwide.

Pete Recchio, a leader in the Tea Party of Michiana Action Coalition, or TEA-MAC, also thinks preserving unity will have to be a focus of the next chairman. Stickel has paid attention to the differences among Republicans as GOP chairman and whoever’s tabbed to replace him “should be a uniter, not one that’s a divider,” he said.

THE CANDIDATES

So far two people have expressed interest in taking over from Stickel — Randy Wilson and Mary Nisly.

Wilson said Monday that promoting party unity would be a priority for him, but he wouldn’t delve into the other key issues. Wilson runs a metal fabricating business in Elkhart that serves the trailer and recreational vehicle industries, M-3 and Associates. He unsuccessfully vied for the Elkhart County Council last year.

Nisly, who currently serves as secretary of the Elkhart County Republican Party, said one of her focuses would be raising funds for GOP candidates and trying to broaden the GOP base to those who don’t vote. At 38, the registered nurse from Goshen said she’d bring “young energy” to the party.

The 130 or so Republican Party precinct committeemen and vice precinct committeemen from across Elkhart County will pick new party leaders at a closed gathering on March 2. Aside from chairman, they’ll be picking the party vice chairman, secretary and treasurer, all for four-year terms.