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For better or worse, a new day dawns for the embattled Haywood GOP

fr GOPA new guard sewed up its takeover of the Haywood County GOP at the party’s annual convention last weekend.

The Republican convention was billed as the high-stakes culmination of a two-year tug-of-war for control of the Haywood GOP — pitting moderate, mainstream Republicans against a more outspoken, ideological faction.

But in the end, the mainstream camp folded. They didn’t even bother putting forward a slate of candidates for executive officers, resulting in a clean sweep of the party leadership roles by the faction.

“We had a show of grit today,” said Jonnie Cure, a precinct chair from Waynesville. “The old Republican guard is stepping down. The new Republicans with passion, determination and grit are stepping up.”

The new guard had been fighting for control of the local party for two years. They portrayed the old guard as too passive, too establishment, too closed.

The new guard, meanwhile, has been labeled as dissidents, a minority faction trying to overthrow the mainstream party leadership.

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“Well how about that? That little faction just took over the whole party,” Debbie King, a precinct chair from the Canton area, said tongue-in-cheek following the convention.

The convention was a “slam dunk” for the new guard, according to Monroe Miller, a strategic leader of the new guard.

“It has been a long time coming, but there is a new GOP in town,” Miller reported on his blog Haywood County Toeprints following the convention.

But the takeover of the party by the new guard was partly a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mainstream members subject to name calling and personal attacks disengaged from the party over the past two years — witnessed by a host of resignations among officers and precinct chairs — leaving the faction to gain more and more control as they occupied the vacated positions.

The morning after the convention, one member of the faction known for his frequent attack emails was right back at it, even though his target had stepped down.

“Find a new hobby or get a job!” replied Susan Brown, who had been the party treasurer up until the convention. “You like to spread false rumors and innuendoes accusing everyone of misconduct … Leave me alone. I have had enough.”

Brown said the constant attacks made her life hell and she was relieved to be done.

The men elected chair and vice chair of the Haywood GOP both pledged to try to unite the party.

“I know there has been a lot of back biting. We have to come together and start working together,” said Kenneth Henson, the new party chair. “I don’t care about what happened before. We have to start new today.”

Henson said the characterization of factions within the party has been exaggerated. He personally is “his own man” and isn’t in a camp. That may be why so many people asked him to serve as chair, he said.

“I’ve had people for months beg me to do this,” said Henson, who ran for chair two years ago as well.

But Mark Zaffrann, who was elected vice chair, said the party can now focus its energy on promoting conservative ideals under new conservative leadership.

“Today allows the movement for the conservative voice to be heard without being stonewalled,” Zaffrann said.

While the new guard has won control of the party, it must now prove it can be effective. It has money to raise — the party’s bank account is down to only a few hundred dollars — candidates to recruit, a cohesive message to develop, and votes to turn out in the 2016 election.

“Now the real work begins,” Cure said.

“I think they are ready to go,” Henson said. “It is a lot of work. But you got to do it.”

Pat Carr, the beleaguered outgoing GOP chair, said she wishes the new leaders luck and success in maintaining their momentum, for the sake of Republican candidates in 2016.

“I am happy to see so much enthusiasm among the group that has taken on so much responsibility,” Carr said. “It is a lot of work.”

Carr and her husband, Ted, were the last to leave the convention site at the Canton armory Saturday. As the janitors made a final pass with their dust mops, Pat folded red plastic tablecloths one by one, adding them to the boxes of convention supplies Ted was carting to their truck.

The party currently has no physical headquarters. It could no longer afford the rent and was forced to close the doors after the November election.

Whether the new guard makes amends with the old guard and lets them remain involved, or whether the old guard will even want to, remains to be seen.

Some of the vacated members of the old guard say they will put their energy toward the campaigns of specific candidates instead.

“Every office in the state is up next year,” said Ray Warren, a member of the old guard, who plans to volunteer directly for candidates rather than through the local party.


The label conundrum

The results of the Haywood GOP convention beg the question: is the new guard still a faction, even though it has taken control of the leadership? Or is the faction in fact the new mainstream?

The new guard claims to speak for the 12,000 registered Republicans in the county. The county convention was the venue and forum for all Republicans to come and lend their voice to the party’s direction.

While only 80 showed up, the new guard claims their take-over of party leadership equates to a mandate.

The faction claims they were never a faction at all, but rather are the real Republican Party emerging at last.

“We weren’t the minority. We have always been the majority,” said King.

Still, it’s difficult to say which side more closely resembles Republicans in the county.

Finding the right label for the faction — a.k.a., new guard — has always been problematic. The new guard isn’t necessarily right wing or radical — at least as a whole, despite a few extremists in the mix. Nor were they a tea party faction, as some members of both camps identify with the tea party.

The faction was briefly labeled as conservative ideologues or party purists, but that didn’t fit either since some are actually Libertarian sympathizers, viewing gay marriage, abortion and marijuana use as personal choices that should be neither condemned or condoned by the government — a stance that defies traditional conservative values. 

In the end, there was no singular catch phrase to describe the faction, no universally shared tenant that separated them from the established mainstream of the party.


Rise to power

The new guard first gained a toehold in party leadership at the annual convention two years ago. A sweeping change in the bylaws that year led to a six-fold increase in the party’s governing committee — from just five or six officers to more than 30 by anointing precinct chairs as voting members of the governing board.

The new contingent of cooks in the kitchen wasn’t content to be glorified volunteers, however. They wanted a hands-on role in managing party affairs.

To mainstream party members, that hands-on role felt more like nitpicking, embroiling the party in petty disputes over meeting minutes and Robert’s Rules of Order.

But to the newly empowered faction, the real problem was reluctance of the old guard to pull up more chairs to the table.

“Some would have you believe the disagreement was the result of some sort of ‘faction’ and a bloated executive board,” Zaffrann said at the convention.

At last year’s convention, the established line of the party attempted to undo the addition of precinct chairs to the governing committee, claiming it was too unwieldy and the source of strife.

But it backfired. Instead, the faction called to oust Carr. The impeachment of Carr also failed, however, and Carr and the precinct chairs remained at loggerheads, making the past year a tempestuous one.


Replay, with a twist

The battle over precinct chairs — namely whether they would remain as members of the governing committee — promised to play out once again at this year’s convention.

“The party should be in the hands of the grassroots precinct leaders. It should not be in the hands of five or six people. That is old school and it is dead school,” Cure said. 

When a motion came to the convention floor to allow precinct members to remain on the governing committee, it was promptly met with a counter motion.

In a surprising twist, the mainstream party members proposed expanding the governing committee even more — to include precinct vice chairs, too. That would have swelled the governing board to nearly 50.

“Folks, put your money where your mouth is,” challenged Carr.

But the counter motion to include precinct vice chairs on the governing committee came with a caveat: upping the quorum to conduct business from a quarter of the governing committee to a third.

That posed a problem. 

Often, only a dozen members of the governing committee show up to monthly meetings. The proposal would have raised the quorum to 16.

 “I don’t know if we would ever make the quorum, quite frankly,” Zaffrann said.

For want of warm bodies, the governing committee wouldn’t have the needed quorum to conduct meetings.

“Are you telling me we should have 12,000 Republican voters represented by less than 16 people?” countered Carr, turning the tables with the same line the faction initially used to argue for the addition of precinct chairs.

Speaking from the floor, precinct chair Andrew Jackson, affiliated with the new guard, said he agreed in theory with the idea of adding precinct vice chairs.

“I believe the more people you get involved the stronger the Republican Party would be,” Jackson said, adding that while there have been growing pains, the party was “working through it.”

But raising the quorum was a deal killer, and the motion to add precinct vice chairs to the governing committee failed.

The long-awaited showdown between the two branches of the party was a tense affair at times, but despite a few brusque comments, there were no major flare ups.

The convention was not only in the local media spotlight, but was also filmed by two official cameramen — one who kept a camera trained on the crowd — plus personal video footage taken by members of the audience. Two security guards were also present, all of which may have helped motivate good behavior.

During a stint of speeches by elected officials, one speaker appealed to the Haywood GOP to come together.

“Republicans have got to stand together. The people in this room are not your enemies,” said recently-elected District Attorney Ashley Welch, who is known for being open and forthright, even on sensitive subjects. “Please stop all the internal fighting. It makes our party look bad. You aren’t going to like every single decision someone makes, but at the end of the day we believe in the same things.”

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