Patrick Gannon: For GOP, struggles are local too

Published 9:06 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2016

RALEIGH — If your focus recently — and rightfully so — has been on the Donald Trump-led implosion of the Republican Party at the national level, you might want to take a look more locally. A huge power struggle is taking place inside the GOP in North Carolina as well .

Yes, it’s primary election time, when intraparty squabbles aren’t unusual. And they often work themselves out before the general election.

But this isn’t just a fight during primary season for North Carolina Republicans.  It’s a battle that started not long after Republicans took control of the General Assembly earlier this decade, and it’s manifesting itself in a number of ways — some of them somewhat odd.

A quick trip to Google turned up recent blog and newspaper headlines from across the state about the GOP commotion — “The NCGOP Clown Car Is Back,” “Showdown at the NCGOP corral” and “NC GOP flap exposes divisions in party.”

Recently, the chairman of the state party, Hasan Harnett, accused party executive director Dallas Woodhouse of disabling his email system to undermine his power as chairman. Harnett, who describes himself as a constitutional conservative, rose to his leadership post through support of tea party and grassroots activists, defeating a candidate supported by the establishment, including Gov. Pat McCrory.

Now he thinks the establishment, including Woodhouse, is out to get him. Woodhouse said the email problem stemmed from a security issue, downplaying it.

The GOP infighting also is evident in the Republican House Caucus, where an ongoing battle is being waged between allies of House Speaker Tim Moore of Kings Mountain and a more conservative wing of the caucus. 

That strife escalated during last year’s budget process, as conservatives accused the leadership of wanting to spend too much money in general and on certain legislators’ pet projects in particular. Recently, a member of the more conservative wing filed an ethics complaint against a member of Moore’s leadership team, claiming abuse of power.

Other ethics complaints have been threatened.

And in recent weeks, outside groups on either side of the House GOP squabble have spent money to try to influence Republican primaries involving some of the major players in the fight.

You’d think the GOP wrangling might give Democrats a chance to make up ground in the General Assembly, where Republicans hold super-majorities in both chambers. But that isn’t expected to happen in any large measure. The N.C. Democratic Party isn’t really in sync these days either, and internal disputes, financial difficulties and philosophical differences among party members have hurt its ability to offer much of a challenge to GOP control.

Isn’t it great that we have such a stable and stellar two-party system here? And that it’s so difficult for unaffiliated candidates to run for office?

Patrick Gannon is editor of the Insider State Government News Service in Raleigh.