North Carolina Republican Party leaders are seeking to oust their chairman, Hasan Harnett, after the party’s Central Committee on Sunday took a vote of no confidence, restricted his duties and banned him from party headquarters.
Harnett has been at odds with the state GOP leadership for months. The latest dispute centers on plans for the annual state Republican Party convention in May. Harnett has sought to lower the price of admission so more activists could attend and help elect party leaders, including delegates to the national convention.
Party leaders suspect that Harnett tried to replace the party’s website with his own site advertising reduced convention fees.
One of the eight “gross violations of the Party’s rules” by Harnett that the Central Committee reviewed Sunday concerned the security of the party’s computer systems and fundraising apparatus.
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In a Facebook post March 16, Harnett denied that he tried to tamper with the party website.
“Recent accusations of me hacking into the NC GOP website are false and ridiculous,” he wrote. “These types of ‘witch hunts’ will not only devastate our Republican Candidates’ chances of winning in November but will utterly annihilate the Republican Party we all work so hard to build in North Carolina.”
Harnett could not be reached Monday.
A petition that would have the party’s Executive Committee strip Harnett of the chairmanship is circulating among committee members. It is possible that the committee could remove Harnett before the May convention.
The turmoil within the party comes as the work of getting GOP candidates elected intensifies.
Scott Cumbie of Winston-Salem, a member of the executive and central committees, said party officials considered that removing Harnett might divert their attention from other pressing work, but they decided that the conflicts had become too distracting.
“The distractions were just getting so major, we just decided we had to put a stop to it,” he said.
Harnett was elected the state party’s first African-American chairman last June with the support of party activists, defeating the establishment choice, Gastonia lawyer Craig Collins, who was backed by Gov. Pat McCrory, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and other elected officials.
Dr. Ada Fisher, a member of the Central Committee, which voted to censure Harnett, said Harnett sought to unilaterally impose lower convention fees, disregarding what the committee had approved.
“You cannot operate a party where everybody is not going to follow the advice of the Central Committee,” she said. “If you aren’t going to follow the advice, why are you there?”
The internal workings of the state GOP have been bumpy for months. In January, the Executive Committee, which has hundreds of members, took up the question of impeaching David Lewis, a member of the state House and of the Republican National Committee. The impeachment vote failed. The committee also considered but rejected a statement of “no confidence” in state GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse.
Harnett, chairman of the Executive Committee, allowed those questions on the agenda even though others on the committee contend Lewis and Woodhouse were not given proper notice. One of the violations the Central Committee reviewed concerned scheduling of petitions to remove party leaders without following the proper process.
Tensions between Harnett and Woodhouse resurfaced this month when Harnett’s email account was disabled.
“I mean seriously, is this some form of ritual or hazing you would put the first black chairman of the NCGOP State Party through?” Harnett wrote to Woodhouse, using a private email account. “Or is it because I am not white enough for you? You keep pushing the limits. I guess time will only tell what your real plot and schemes are all about against me.”
At the time, Woodhouse said multiple party officials’ email accounts had been shut off to address a “security issue,” but he said he hadn’t reached out to Harnett to let him know about the problem.
The Central Committee’s action Sunday night is the latest evidence of a growing feud between factions of the state party. Harnett, a Cabarrus County businessman, is popular with the tea party movement and party activists, but less favored by party insiders.
“The Central Committee expressed extreme concerns about Mr. Harnett’s actions to change prices to the upcoming convention without regard to the financial health of the party, which according to the Central Committee, has suffered greatly under Mr. Harnett’s tenure because he has fallen well short of his own fundraising goals and promises,” the committee’s announcement said.
The committee detailed eight alleged “gross violations of the Party’s rules” by Harnett that were reviewed by the Central Committee in adopting “A Resolution of No Confidence, Censure and Restriction” against him.
The committee’s announcement also said Harnett was censured “for actions deemed harmful to the North Carolina Republican Party including making false and malicious statements about other Republicans and staff.”
The Central Committee on Sunday also censured one of its members, Daniel Rufty, for “false and malicious statements about other Republicans.” Rufty, chairman of the 12th Congressional District Republican Party, was one of two Central Committee members to vote against the sanctions against Harnett at a meeting Sunday.
In an interview with The News & Observer’s Colin Campbell on March 9 about the email incident, Rufty said the state party rift mirrors divisions at the national level between outsider candidates such as Donald Trump and the party’s establishment.
“The establishment hates Hasan and has been actively working against him to make sure he’s not successful,” Rufty said. He added that the NCGOP should join other state parties in allowing the chairman to hire the executive director, rather than have a committee make the appointment.
“You get this conflict of interest” under the current system, Rufty said. “That’s a ticket for failure, for sure.”
In addition, Harnett posted Monday morning on his Facebook page that his party email account had been disabled again.
Eric Frederick contributed to this report.
Bonner: (919) 829-4821. Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner