The N.C. Republican Party ousted its chairman Saturday in a two-thirds majority vote after months of infighting that has mirrored divisions in the national GOP.
Hasan Harnett will be replaced by former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, who will serve out his term that runs to next year. Hayes, a businessman from Concord, served as N.C. GOP chairman from 2011 to 2013.
“(Harnett is) a great speaker but he did not have the background, the experience and the leadership skills that come from being immersed in the process over a number of years,” Hayes said after the meeting, adding that he’s confident the party can heal its divisions. “It’s an incredible opportunity to unify around the common purpose of defeating failed Democrat policies.”
Harnett wasn’t at Saturday’s meeting. His supporters said that he was traveling out of the country on business and that they thought the vote was timed to conflict with his travel plans.
About 300 Republican Party leaders from across the state met behind closed doors for five hours to decide Harnett’s fate. Before reporters were asked to leave the room, the party Executive Committee members were already arguing over procedural matters related to the agenda. An impartial registered parliamentarian was hired to conduct the hearing.
Harnett was convicted in a 202-84 vote on a charge of “major violations” of the party’s rules. Leaders also voted 205-77 to convict him of “gross inefficiency.”
Lisa Baldwin of Henderson County, who supported Harnett, said the charges were unfair. “The grassroots conservatives were very disappointed in the outcome,” she said, adding that she’s concerned that wing of the party won’t be represented now.
Harnett was the state party’s first black chairman. He was elected last year with Tea Party support, beating a candidate who had endorsements from nearly every GOP statewide elected official.
Among the allegations against Harnett: He hasn’t raised enough money for the party. He sought to lower the party’s convention fees against the wishes of other party leaders and attempted to hack the website to change the fees. And he publicly criticized other party leaders.
Harnett was censured in March by the party’s smaller Central Committee, and it banned him from the party’s Raleigh headquarters and shut off his access to email. He has said the claims against him are false and that he’s been the target of establishment forces since he was elected.
Hundreds of GOP leaders signed an impeachment petition that set the stage for Saturday’s special meeting and removal vote.
Harnett has argued that the divide within the state party could have national implications as delegates are selected for the national convention in Cleveland. He said he was concerned that establishment forces might try to elect delegates for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz who won’t support them after the first ballot.
Other party leaders have stressed that “grassroots” Republicans are responsible for picking delegates at congressional district conventions in April and at the state convention in Greensboro next week. So far, many of the delegates have said they prefer Cruz – though they’ve agreed to serve as pledged delegates for other candidates if needed.
The dispute first became public when Harnett’s email access was cut off and he sent a critical email to executive director Dallas Woodhouse, saying, “Is this some form of ritual or hazing you would put the first black chairman of the NCGOP State Party through? Or is it because I am not white enough for you?”
Sen. Joyce Krawiec of Kernersville nominated Hayes to replace Harnett. Two lesser-known candidates were also nominated: Jack Brosch of Charlotte and Keith Kidwell of Beaufort County.
Hayes represented the 8th District in Congress from 1999 to 2009. In nominating Hayes, Krawiec said he “oversaw the most successful election in the history of our party” in 2012 when Gov. Pat McCrory was elected, and he “knows what it takes to win.”
Hayes said he looks forward to bringing the party together. “We are all sad to be in the position of having to take today’s action but firm in our resolve to go forward in the most open and fair way possible,” he said in his speech to the party. “The only people who are happy we’re here today are Roy Cooper and what’s her name – (U.S. Senate candidate Deborah) Ross – and Josh Stein. ... I loved working for you, and I look forward to doing it again.”
But Brosch warned that Hayes’ election means that the bitter divide within the N.C. GOP is not over. “You will lose the grassroots of North Carolina,” he said. “You will lose the Tea Party in North Carolina.”