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Wednesday, 09 April 2014 13:12

GOP shake-up: Haywood Republicans wrestle with identity crisis, attempt to oust chair

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A coup within the Haywood County Republican Party was set in motion this week by a group of precinct chairs who called for the ousting of the party’s chairwoman.

 

A takeover of the local party by a faction of conservative ideologues has been brewing for more than a year. The faction has increased its toehold in the party, eventually amassing enough seats on the executive committee to make an end-run for the chair’s seat.

 

A heated and raucous meeting was held Monday night where the coup faction called for the removal and censure of Pat Carr, the party’s chair.

It’s unclear whether they have the votes within the party to carry through with the plan, however.

So far, the faction has merely called for her removal. An official vote won’t happen for at least two more weeks. It would take a super majority of the executive committee — two-thirds of the roughly 30 members — to formally remove Carr, according to party rules.

The coup faction called for a special meeting of the party’s executive committee this week to present charges against Carr. It was held in the private dining room of Duvall’s Restaurant on April 7.

The meeting was anything but smooth. It began with a tussle over who would run the meeting. Monroe Miller, a conservative activist who regularly rails against county government and is known for his derogatory email attacks, attempted to lead the meeting.

But Carr insisted she was still the chair of the party, and thus entitled to lead the meeting.

“Mr. Miller, you are a precinct vice chair,” Carr said. “You are not conducting this meeting.”

Miller stood at the podium beside Carr, however, talking over her, calling the meeting to order, trying to take roll and calling on members of the audience to make motions.

Carr kept saying Miller had no authority to take charge of the meeting. But the precinct vice chair remained by the podium, holding a three-ring binder with a handmade cover that had Pat Carr’s name in a circle with a line drawn through it.

The standoff between Miller and Carr for the meeting gavel showed no sign of budging until a man in a suit walked in about 10 minutes late. He seemed somewhat out of place in a roomful of camouflage, ball caps, T-shirts and flannel.

He was quickly peppered with heckling calls of “Who are you?” and “Who sent you?” and “Why are you here?”

He said he had been sent by the state Republican Party to serve as a moderator and to counsel the group on the party’s rules and by-laws, should procedural questions arise.

“It allows me to come in with only the goal of ensuring a fair process,” said Craig Collins, an attorney from Gastonia and party leader in his region of the state.

Collins said Carr was technically still the chair, and until she is removed by a vote of the executive committee, no one else can chair the meeting unless she voluntarily agrees.

“It is out of order for you to stand up and say ‘I want to chair the meeting,’” Collins told Miller. “If your chair is not your chair in an hour, which appears to be what this meeting is about, then you can decide who is going to chair the meeting then.”

But Tomile Cure spoke out from the audience that “in our world,” Carr already wasn’t the chair.

“We are going to remove you,” Cure said.

Miller rationalized that since it was a special called meeting by members of the executive committee, rather than a normal meeting, that the normal rules didn’t apply and so they could make their own rules.

“This is your meeting,” Miller told the audience. “You get to decide who runs your meeting. I suggest I run the meeting.”

But Collins asserted that violating party rules by simply seizing the gavel could make the whole meeting invalid. Eventually, the crowd recanted, not wanting the events that would happen that night to be nullified by a technicality. But Miller wouldn’t sit down and kept making a case to preside.

“Miller, you lost. You’re not the chair of the meeting,” said Ted Carr, Pat’s husband, who was sitting in the crowd.

“Neither are you, so shut up,” someone yelled from the back of the room.

Outbursts during the meeting were common. Carr repeatedly attempted to keep the meeting in check and on track. She stuck adamantly by Robert’s Rules of Order, the widely-accepted procedures for conducting official meetings.

But the freewheeling banter was hard to follow and even harder to rein in. The first half-hour of the meeting was a flurry of motions, competing motions and amendments to motions.

Technically, only one motion is supposed to be on the floor at a time. And until that motion is voted on, another motion can’t be made. Robert’s Rules are intended to keep order in meetings, allowing motions, discussion and votes to happen in an organized and clear fashion.

But Carr had her work cut out. She was often talked over, interrupted and disparaged when trying to enforce standard meeting protocol.

A few times, someone from the audience would stand up and call for a vote by a show of hands on something that wasn’t even an official motion.

The group had come to the meeting with an orderly game plan, a pre-determined order of who would make what motion, and in what order, in the call for Carr’s removal.

Miller, during his attempt to run the meeting, called on audience member Eddie Cabe.

“Eddie, go ahead Eddie,” Miller said.

Cabe started to read a motion when someone in the audience hollered “Wrong one!”

“Wait, wait, not yet,” Miller said.

They had been thrown off their game by the presence of media. First, they decided, they needed to vote the media out of the room — namely a reporter with The Smoky Mountain News, and the editor and the publisher of The Mountaineer.

Initially, a motion was made to kick out anyone who wasn’t a registered Republican. But that only solved part of the problem. The motion effectively eliminated the Mountaineer editor, who is a registered Democrat.

But the publisher of the Mountaineer, who is a long-time Republican, remained in the room filming the meeting, which he would then simply turn over to his banished editor. Some in the audience said he had no right to film, but he kept on filming.

Meanwhile, banning non-Republicans didn’t get rid of The Smoky Mountain News reporter either, who had changed her voter registration to Republican earlier that day in hopes of being admitted to the meeting.

“Uh-uh,” Cabe said, pointing his finger at the reporter. “I am going to make a motion we get rid of her, too.”

But motions to kick out the media became sidetracked by the bigger quandary of who was going to run the meeting. 

A point of order was called to first figure out who could  legitimately preside over the meeting, before returning to the media issue. Ten minutes of arguing ensued over which motion to take up first: the one to banish the rest of the media or the motion to settle who would preside over the meeting.

It was technically against party policy to banish registered Republicans from the room.

“All citizens of North Carolina who are registered Republicans have the right to participate in affairs of the party,” Ted Carr read from the state party’s rules of organization.

But the crowd suggested suspending the rules and voting on its own special rules for the night, and thus banished any members of the official media, regardless if they were registered Republicans.

Once media were ejected, the chain of events isn’t known. No one at the meeting would talk when they emerged.

However, the intention going in, based on a “game plan” for the meeting that was circulated via email by Miller, was to call for Carr’s removal, read the charges against her and schedule a subsequent meeting for an official vote.

Carr had only a couple of supporters in the room — one being her own husband. But that was by design.

“Several have called and asked whether they should attend or just boycott it,” Carr said Monday before the meeting.

In the end, Carr’s supporters boycotted the meeting rather than giving the coup faction an audience.

 

What’s next

The real test of Carr’s support — and whether the coup faction can take the reins of the party — will be the official vote over the chair’s removal, which won’t occur for at least two weeks, though a date has not been set.

Carr is one of the last mainstream Republicans who still holds an officer position in the local party. Three of the five officer positions are currently vacant, following a string of resignations from mainstream Republicans who became fed up by the faction. Carr said she isn’t willing to walk away, however.

“I am not a quitter. Once I take on a project I stay with it until the end, and that’s what I told the people that elected me,” Carr explained. “I felt to step down at this point would be even more detrimental.”

Fred Deeb is among Carr’s supporters.

“She has done the best job she could possibly do under the circumstances. Pat tried to keep it under control, but she was overruled by this mob,” Deeb said. “It is too bad they have hijacked the Republican office for their own personal gain.”

The coup faction isn’t indicative of the majority of Republicans in the county, he said.

“If the people doing this to Pat think they are representing the Republican Party in this county, they are sadly mistaken. They are a small group. I am very disappointed in them,” Deeb said. “The whole party is bigger than the little group of people who have been running the party in Haywood County.”

Deeb said the group is disruptive and the meetings have devolved into a zoo. As a result, he has cut off his own involvement with the local party and even changed his voter registration from Republican to unaffiliated.

Like Deeb, Wayne Wyles was involved in the Republican Party until recently but has changed his registration to unaffiliated also. Wyles condemned the attack against Carr.

“She is a professional, stand-up woman,” said Wyles. “She takes her position and holds to it, and that is professional, but she is now under incredible attack. She started getting attacked the minute she got elected by nitpicking and bickering. She has weathered the storm well.”

Carr maintains all is not lost. 

“I think we have some people who are relatively new to politics and parliamentary procedure, and I would like to get them a little more involved and use some of that energy toward constructive ends,” Carr said, when asked what type of resolution she would like to see given the circumstances.

Those trying to oust Carr would not say what their grievances were exactly. They also wouldn’t share what their goals are for the party, or what new direction they hope to take it in should they gain control of it.

“Hopefully, the vision for unity will be fulfilled,” said Andrew Jackson, a precinct chair trying to oust Carr. He declined to elaborate, however.

Some hinted that the mainstream Republicans who have run the party in the past aren’t conservative enough, or aren’t true to Republican ideals.

“I want to promote the party platform,” Cure said when asked why she supported a new leadership direction for the party.

It will take a two-thirds majority of the executive committee to officially oust Carr. The exact number on the executive committee is in flux from month to month, and even week to week, due to high turnover among party officers and precinct chairs of late. There are currently only 26 members, but there are about five vacant seats on the executive committee in various stages of being filled. 

It took only one-third of the executive committee to call for the special meeting this week. Ten people were willing to put their name on that list.

Mark Zaffrann was among them but said he doesn’t know where he will ultimately come down in the official vote to remove Carr. Zaffrann said he felt the process should be allowed to play out, however, and let the chips fall where they may.

“There was an impasse if you will,” Zaffrann said. “If this is what breaks the logjam to have the conversation about the process, then so be it.”

 

Tipping point

As mainstream Republicans are driven out of the party, the faction trying to take control moves in to fill the void, claiming an increasing number of leadership roles on the roughly 30-member executive committee. Each resignation by those who are fed up creates yet another vacancy for the faction to expand its toehold.

The vice chair, treasurer and finance chair have all stepped down, citing the discord or floundering direction of the local party as too unpleasant to endure. Two of the seats were filled, but the replacements ended up stepping down as well.

Three of the five officer seats are still vacant. 

While the vote on Carr’s ousting will be a litmus test for the party’s direction, that’s not the only pivotal moment facing the party.

This Thursday, one or more of the vacant officer seats could come up for a vote at a regularly scheduled meeting of the executive committee. Who gets the appointments could decide whether the coup faction gains more control.

Carr said it is increasingly difficult to find party members willing to take on leadership roles.

“It has been very challenging. Several folks have said they do not want to be involved while there is this friction in the party,” Carr said.

The rise of the coup faction in the party began more than a year ago with a concerted effort to snatch up precinct chair seats. It wasn’t hard to do, since the election of precinct chairs is determined solely by who shows up.

Many precincts saw just two or three members show up for the election, making it relatively easy for any warm body at the table to snag the precinct chair title.

But that was only half the battle. Precinct chairs historically weren’t voting members on the party’s executive committee. That changed last year, as well, however. A vote was held at the annual convention to make every precinct chair in the county a member of the executive committee instead of just the party officers.

The executive committee grew from five to 30 overnight, making the newly named precinct chairs part of the formal party leadership.

At the time, no one spoke out against the expansion of the executive committee, but the idea wasn’t universally embraced.

“Several said they were not for it and it would be a disaster, but they did not vote against it because they did not want it to appear the party was divided,” Carr said. “Quite a few folks told me they thought the increased executive committee would be a problem. I told them they might be right, but we ought to at least try it for a year to be more inclusive. I thought once people were given the chance to participate it might work.”

Now, however, there is movement within the party to undo that decision. There was an attempt to take power away from precinct chairs, and return to a smaller executive committee, at the party’s annual convention last month.

A motion to remove precinct chairs from the executive committee was made but didn’t pan out as intended. A hue and cry ensued, and the motion was withdrawn.

The coup faction blamed Carr for the attempt to take power away from the precinct chairs. The faction retaliated by calling for Carr’s removal.

Ken Henson, who made a bid for party chairman last year at the annual convention but lost to Carr, said he disagrees with the recent attempt to kick precinct chairs off the executive committee.

“My direction is everybody has a vote,” Henson said, when asked what new direction he wants the party to go in.

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