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Soul searching time for the GOP

When N.C. GOP Director Todd Poole emailed a list of state job openings — some 300 vacant positions in all — to dozens of Republican operatives asking them to spread the word to party friendlies, some political fallout was to be expected.


Democrats accused Poole of working in concert with Gov. Pat McCrory to dish out state jobs to Republicans, an unethical hiring practice that smacks of political favoritism.

But backlash came from an unlikely corner as well —  some rank-and-file members of his own party from the mountain county of Haywood.

“What in the world was our N.C. GOP Executive Director, Todd Poole thinking? Why encourage Republicans to become government employees? I feel a conflict of interest, conflict of platform positions and a conflict of principles coming over me,” wrote Jonnie Cure, a Republican precinct chair in Haywood County.

The message quickly made it into the hands of Poole.

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“You are the first person that I have ever encountered that believes a Republican administration should keep Democrat bureaucrats in their jobs,” Poole responded.

SEE ALSO: Internal debate divides Haywood GOP

But Poole apparently missed the point, so Eddie Cabe, another GOP precinct chair in Haywood County, pitched in to clarify.

“Can I remind you they are ALL bureaucrats no matter what letter comes after their name. And thus should be removed from my tax burden,” Cabe emailed, referring Poole to excerpts of the state party platform on free market principles.

Another activist in the Haywood GOP chimed in for good measure.

“I thought this is what a typical democrat operative would be putting out,” Monroe Miller penned in an email to Poole. “If Todd Poole was interested in strengthening our State, Country and the Republican Party, he would have sent out a list of non-government job openings of jobs that people would actually create something.”

Pat Carr, the chair of the Haywood Republican Party, saw nothing wrong Poole’s attempt to share state job vacancies with Republicans, and in turn forwarded it along to her own party email list. 

“If you have Republican family or friends in counties where jobs are available, please contact them to see if they have any interest,” Carr wrote.

But to limited-government purists like Cure, Cabe and Miller, it’s hypocritical for the party that preaches fiscal conservatism to be handing out state jobs to the party faithful.

Whether you call it ideologically pure or simply the radical right, the Haywood Republican Party is wrestling with this limited-government faction within its ranks that doesn’t always gel with mainstream Republicans.

And Haywood County’s GOP isn’t alone.

A similar soul-searching is playing out within the Republican Party at the national level as well, according to Chris Cooper, a political analyst and public policy professor at Western Carolina University.

No doubt the tea party has emboldened and energized the Republican Party. But their more radical tactics could backfire in the long run if they breech the tolerance of mainstream America, causing voters to retaliate and swing the pendulum back the other way.

“That is the struggle the Republican Party is facing locally, at the state level, and nationally. The tea party has stimulated a very conservative base, but at the same time, that makes it harder to get moderate voters,” Cooper said. “We’ve seen this at various times in American history, and this is one of those.”

Indeed, it’s a struggle faced by both parties over the decades, a philosophical push-and-pull that has shaped and reshaped their platforms and policies.

Party machinations are organic, an ever-moving target to find the party’s center — no easy task given the tens of millions stuffed into a measly two tents, neither of them big for everyone in their camp. Yet no matter how much jostling ensues, it’s impossible to stretch the tent enough to hold them all, and one end of the spectrum gets booted out into the cold, knocking and clamoring to get back in.

The Democratic Party has held uber-liberals at bay in recent years. The Occupy Movement never quite weaseled in to the party and instead ran its course on the fringes.

But not so with the tea party. The tea party has taken center stage in the Republican Party, yet refuses to bend to anyone’s will but its own. 

“The tea party banner has this autonomy, and the fact they are under this Republican Party umbrella has led to some factionalism within the party,” Cooper said.

There’s two ways to win an election: mobilize the base or win over independent voters.

“It would be a challenge right now to deploy the second strategy given the current state of the Republican Party,” Cooper said.

It’s the same tough choice some Republicans in the local Haywood County party now grapple with. Should they hitch their wagon to the new faction of limited-government ringleaders?

On the surface, the local party is seeing more involvement and enthusiasm from the rank-and-file than ever before. But all that energy can be misdirected, and enthusiasm, if not bridled, can come across as radical.

Pat Carr, the Haywood GOP chair, looks to a quote from Lyndon Johnson for guidance: “politics is the art of the possible.”

“We need to focus on what is possible and leave the fringe issues to fringe groups,” Carr said.

A group of limited-government activists have infiltrated the party during the past year, but Carr couldn’t comment on what their top goals seem to be.

“It is not clear to me what some of the objectives are,” Carr said. 


Asset or liability?

The jury is still out on whether the tea party will become a liability for the Republican Party in the long run. Candidates are cheered for grandstanding on the stump but booed if they take their hard-line rhetoric into office. Refusal to compromise — instead sticking to their guns at all costs — grows wearisome for the general public.

“Cool, common sense heads cannot govern because of the volatility, accusations and divisiveness,” said Mike Sorrells, a Haywood County commissioner. Although Sorrells is a Democrat, he has watched the unfolding discord within the Republican Party with dismay.

“I hear them,” Sorrells said. “They are tired of it.”

Insults, name calling and personal attacks have driven some away from the party — on both the moderate and conservative side.

“Many Republicans have told me personally that they are disassociating themselves with the party because of the conduct of these individuals,” said County Commissioner Mark Swanger. While Swanger is a Democrat, he’s been steeped in local politics for two decades. 

“I think they are a microcosm today of exactly what is happening at the national level. They don’t offer solutions; they just want to be an obstructionist,” Swanger said. “What in the past was healthy dialogue and debate between responsible parties has disappeared. It is a shame. Our system works best when you have a healthy, respectful exchange of ideas.”

Swanger said the ideological head-butting between parties on the national stage tends to dissipate at the local level.

“Over the years, I have developed an excellent working relationship with many people in the Republican Party; common sense, middle-of-the-road folks interested in the betterment of the community,” Swanger said. “I’ve had conversations with many of them in the past year who are backing out of Republican party politics altogether because of the influence of these so-called tea partiers and their relentless negative agenda.”

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