Barry Saunders

Saunders: Communications glitches among the GOP leadership

Hasan Harnett
Hasan Harnett Raleigh

For a couple of days this month, Hasan Harnett may have thought he was back in the 1970s. Harnett, chairman of the N.C. GOP, was forced to conduct official business the old-fashioned way, by telephone or – EGADS! – by actually talking to people in person.

The reason he had to resort to such primitive means of communication apparently made him think he was back in the 1950s.

“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 Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state GOP, upon discovering he’d been forced back into pre-personal computer communications. “Or is it because I am not white enough for you?”

Harnett said his e-mail service was shut down by Woodhouse and that hindered his ability to do his duty. “When you don’t have access to e-mail, you’re basically handicapped. That’s what it felt like,” Harnett told me when I spoke with him recently by phone. “I had to do a lot of ‘piecemealing,’ trying to figure out what’s what. Info that comes into my e-mail account is party information, and I had no access to it, so I didn’t know what was going on.”

Harnett speaks elliptically, sometimes pausing several seconds before answering a question. A couple of times during our phone conversation I, like a vaudeville performer who’s bombing onstage, almost asked, “Hey, is this thing on?”

He is as reserved in tone as Woodhouse is loquacious.

Hasan Harnett is as reserved in tone as Dallas Woodhouse is loquacious.

What reason did Woodhouse give for thrusting him back into prehistoric communications, I asked.

“He said ‘security server issue.’ 

That’s all?

“When requested, he has not supplied me with any” other reason for cutting off the e-mail account.

How, I asked, would you describe your relationship with Woodhouse?

“It’s dynamic,” he said.

Dynamite?

“Dynamic. We are respectful of one another,” he said. Loooooong pause. “We are certainly working on growing together.”

Asked if he still thinks his being the first African-American to serve as chairman of the state GOP has something to do with what he perceives as shabby treatment, Harnett said, “I’ll decline to comment on that for now.” He did not disavow his previous statement, but he did refer me to previous comments he’s made on the issue.

In other words, I think he meant, “Hell yeah.”

Woodhouse would only say on the record, “We continue to evaluate the security worries that have made our communications so difficult.”

I’ve seen him in action on television – when he was a TV reporter and we were covering the same story – and as a political operative at rallies and meetings. He is not a word-mincer, and I’d be hesitant to ascribe – absent more compelling evidence – his actions as disdain for Harnett’s race.

After all, his brother and he are of the same race, yet in a New York Times interview he called his older brother Brad “a professional reputation destroyer” who sent “union goons” to disrupt one of his political events.

In the same interview, Brad – who at the time was a senior Democratic National Committee official– accused his younger brother of trafficking in “lies, innuendo and conspiracy theories.”

And who can forget that time – one of the best unscripted TV moments since Maury said “Janquel, you are NOT the father” – the Woodhouses’ mom called into C-SPAN and told the bickering brothers on national television to knock it off?

When you think of the kind of hardball Woodhouse plays when it comes to his political beliefs and the way even his conservative critics decry what have been called his Machiavellian machinations, I’ve got just one thought: Harnett should be glad that his e-mail is the only thing Woodhouse cut off.

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