State Politics

Hasan Harnett took helm of NCGOP to cheers; now he faces ouster

One state chairman was indicted on federal tax charges. Another went to prison on similar charges. And one drew fire from a predecessor for not being a true conservative.

But North Carolina Republicans have never seen a drama like the one involving their current chairman.

On Saturday, nearly 600 party officials will gather in a Raleigh conference center to vote on whether to oust chairman Hasan Harnett of Harrisburg. It will be an impeachment-like trial, the first in memory of a party chairman.

Only a year ago, Harnett entered the party convention accompanied by a drum line and cheers from hundreds of supporters. “Together, we will win in 2016 because teamwork makes the dream work,” he said, shortly before upsetting a favored candidate to become the party’s first African-American chairman.

Now the team seems to be lining up against him.

On Monday, seven previous party chairs took the unprecedented step of writing members of the executive committee, saying they’re “disappointed and even appalled” at Harnett’s actions.

“He has demonstrated time and time again that he is not capable of being chairman,” they wrote. “We, as former chairmen, respectfully and sincerely ask to vote to remove Hasan Harnett as chairman.”

Harnett faces a litany of charges like those cited last month when the party’s Central Committee voted to censure him. They include everything from creating “an uncertain and disrespectful environment” at headquarters to unilaterally announcing a lower admission cost to next month’s GOP convention than party officials wanted.

Probably the most serious charge was that he tried to hack into the party’s website.

Party officials say they have two affidavits that say Harnett “took initial steps to convince an IT professional to crash the NCGOP Convention website, replace it with an unauthorized version and direct funds raised outside of the NCGOP’s accounts and controls.”

Harnett denies that. He has said that when headquarters staff shut down his party email account in March, because of what they called “a significant electronic security issue,” he was contacted by a Greenville-based Web developer named Ken Robol.

According to Harnett, Robol told him he could hack into the site for him. According to Robol’s affidavit, it was Harnett who encouraged him to hack in, set up a competing website and divert party funds. Harnett called those allegations untrue.

The toxic relationship began souring months ago. In March, Harnett lashed out at Dallas Woodhouse, the party’s executive director, whom he accused of cutting off his email and “working around” him. He also asked Woodhouse, “Am I not white enough for you?”

“I mean seriously, is this some form of ritual or hazing you would put the first black Chairman of the NCGOP State Party through?” he wrote to Woodhouse. “Or is it because I am not white enough for you? You keep pushing the limits.”

Neither Harnett nor Woodhouse was available for comment. In a text, Harnett said he’s out of the country on business. Though he won’t be at Saturday’s meeting, party officials say it will go on.

A two-thirds vote will be necessary to depose him. A majority will be enough to sanction him. One party source says more than 200 executive committee members signed the petition calling for the meeting.

In a video message this month, Harnett said that although he’s innocent of the allegations against him, he “sucked up my pride and apologized to the Central Committee.”

“It is time we put this stuff behind us,” he said. “It is garbage.”