Rowan GOP racked by dissension

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
With the election less than four months away, the Rowan Republican Executive Committee is racked with more dissension than usual.
The party’s chairman is under fire for weak leadership and two activist members of the committee have quit.
Bill Ward, chairman of the communications committee, and his wife, Celeste, party treasurer, both quit their posts last month.
Although her husband is well known for his fiery defense of conservative issues, Celeste Ward may have delivered the best parting shot at the GOP gathering at the Holiday Inn.
Irritated at the way her husband had been treated, she told the group she didn’t give a “rat’s a–” about the Republican Party before walking out.
Celeste Ward, a retired auditor from Bank of America who was honored by the party as Volunteer of the Year in 2007, went a step further. A lifetime Republican, she went to the Rowan County Board of Elections office and changed her registration to unaffiliated.
Mac Butner, a longtime Republican activist and committee member, said this week the upheaval is setting the stage for a major battle for control of the party at the county GOP convention in March.
Butner blames many of the problems on party chairman Stephen Kidd. “He’s a super-nice guy. He wants to make everybody happy. He’s not been a very strong leader. Conservatives don’t respect him.”
Butner predicts a “tremendous battle” for control of the party and next year’s chairmanship.
Kidd said this week it won’t be him รณ eight years is enough. He has served two terms as vice chairman and is completing his second term as chairman.
Kidd defended his leadership style, saying he wants to include as many people as possible.
During his tenure, the former central committee, which had a couple of dozen members, was replaced by the almost 100-member executive committee, which includes all precinct chairmen and vice chairmen.
In Kidd’s opinion, the change has worked and has brought in more people and made the party stronger.
“My job is to facilitate the meetings, not direct the meetings to include as many people as possible.”
Butner and the Wards contend that Kidd has abdicated leadership responsibilities to others in the party, allowing Donna Peeler, a former vice chairwoman, Ada Fisher, a candidate for the N.C. House, and others to call the shots.
Kidd agrees with Butner and Ward on at least one point. The strife and bad feelings go back a year or more to the failed effort to oust Ward, Butner, Arnold Chamberlain and Jim Sides from the Executive Committee for their support of Democrats.
Sides displayed yard signs for Democratic candidate Tina Hall. Ward wrote a letter to the editor of the Post praising Hall and Sides.
Chamberlain signed a letter of support for Don Sayers, a longtime Democrat who was running for Superior Court Judge.
Butner came under attack for pinch-hitting at an event at Gary’s Barbecue for former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. and Mark Martin, a candidate for N.C. Supreme Court. Other local judicial candidates were invited, including some who are registered Democrats.
Butner said it didn’t make sense for him to come under attack for that, since the judicial races are non-partisan.
Ward, a Navy veteran, offered a colorful version of the effort to oust the four.
Ward described the session where Peeler offered the motion to remove the four as a “pi–ing contest,” adding that if Peeler “had been a guy, there would probably have been fisticuffs.”
The motion died when Ward and others demanded to see the petition. “We wanted to see who was accusing us of being bad Republicans.”
Kidd refused to show the petition and stopped the effort to purge the committee.
Although the effort to purge the committee occurred nearly two years ago, Kidd said this week the bad feelings go back to the effort to oust Sides.
As far as Kidd is concerned, Sides is a good Republican these days. “We have no more issues right now. We’re good with Jim Sides. We’re good with all Republicans.”
Kidd also expressed regret that the Wards quit the committee.
He said Bill Ward presented a proposal for a new Web site, using a new company. Others said the party needed competitive bids. “Bill did not want to do that. He was unhappy.”
Ward said he had worked on the Web site idea, got a price of $750 and handed out prints of the proposed new look. He wanted to get it up and running as quickly as possible. “We need some pizzazz, something relevant with more information and news.”
Instead, Ward said, Fisher wanted to form a committee.
“I don’t do committees,” Ward responded, ripping up the mock-up of the site and tossing it down the table toward Kidd.
Moments later, Kidd excused Bill Ward from the meeting. At that point, Celeste Ward defended her husband, contending he was being treated badly.
Celeste Ward said she was “tired of the sniping and infighting, which had got to be ridiculous.”
As she was about to quit as treasurer, she was reminded that the party had given her the volunteer of the year award last year. She offered to give it back.
Butner stood up and tried to stop her from resigning, but to no avail.
Bill Ward said this week Kidd has shown no leadership and the party apparatus has turned into a social club incapable of helping candidates in the fall election.
“Bill’s temper got the best of him,” said Butner, adding the committee never got a chance to discuss the Web site proposal.
“Bill is the kind of guy that if he sees a pig in the ditch, he would get it out,” said Butner. Others, such as Peeler and Fisher, would want to form a committee to determine if they needed to get the pig out, he said.
Kidd has moved on and has already filled the treasurer’s spot, appointing John Graham, a retired business owner with corporate experience. His son, attorney Bill Graham, ran unsuccessfully this year for the GOP nomination for governor.
Michael Caskey, of Kannapolis, who was serving as co-chairman of the communications committee, is now the chairman.
Kidd said there may be a fight for control of the party. Traditionally, he noted, a nominating committee appointed by the chairman puts forward a slate of candidates.
But, Kidd said, it’s a free election process, and anyone can nominate a candidate.
That happened at the 2007 convention, when Peeler was ousted as vice chairman.
Although put forward by the committee to continue as the vice chairman, Terry Osborne stood up and nominated James Furr.
At that point, Peeler withdrew as a candidate, clearing the way for Furr to be elected.