NC GOP com­mit­tee could re­move key party leader

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY BRIAN MUR­PHY bmur­[email protected]­clatchydc.com

A key group of North Carolina Repub­li­cans will meet Sun­day to plot the state party’s path for­ward af­ter the in­dict­ment of its chair­man and a top donor and two of his associates on fed­eral bribery charges.

Among the changes it could dis­cuss: Re­mov­ing NC GOP ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Dal­las Wood­house, the out­spo­ken Raleigh op­er­a­tive who has be­come the face of the state party in re­cent years, at­tack­ing Democrats and de­fend­ing Repub­li­cans when­ever nec­es­sary.

The state party’s cen­tral com­mit­tee, a group of 30 or so elected of­fi­cials, dis­trict chair­men and party loy­al­ists, is re­spon­si­ble for hir­ing and fir­ing the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, ac­cord­ing to the state party’s 2018 or­ga­ni­za­tional plan. It is the only po­si­tion the com­mit­tee is re­spon­si­ble for. No staff will be on Sun­day’s con­fer­ence call.

“We’re go­ing to talk about this whole sit­u­a­tion and cer­tainly lead­er­ship and man­age­ment of the party. It’ll be the first time just the en­tire cen­tral com­mit­tee will have a dis­cus­sion about this whole en­tire un­pleas­ant sit­u­a­tion,” said Charles Hell­wig of Raleigh, the party’s 4th dis­trict chair­man.

The group’s meet­ing comes just days af­ter the un­seal­ing of a fed­eral grand jury’s in­dict­ment of NC GOP Chair­man Robin Hayes, a for­mer mem­ber of Congress, and as the party tries to limit the po­lit­i­cal fall­out from a sec­ond re­cent scan­dal.

Hayes re­lin­quished his day-to­day du­ties with the party, though some Repub­li­cans want him to re­sign.

Wood­house, who tes­ti­fied be­fore the grand jury in De­cem­ber, said he is not a tar­get of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but in­stead a

wit­ness. He said he does not know and has never spo­ken with Greg Lind­berg, the in­dicted po­lit­i­cal donor at the heart of the scan­dal. Wood­house, who has been the party’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor since October 2015, was not men­tioned in the in­dict­ment.

“I work at the plea­sure of the cen­tral com­mit­tee and that is the sta­tus. That sta­tus can change by my de­ter­mi­na­tion or theirs,” Wood­house said Fri­day. “I will not re­sign. I have noth­ing to re­sign for.”

No votes can take place on Sun­day’s call be­cause of party rules about no­tice. But Aubrey Woodard, the party’s acting chair­man, has also sched­uled an in-per­son meet­ing for April 14, where ac­tion can be taken.

“He has done a very good job in the per­for­mance of his du­ties. Un­til the com­mit­tee de­cides to take ac­tion in that re­spect, he has my full sup­port,” said Woodard, the party’s 11th dis­trict chair­man.

Dis­trict chair­men are vot­ing mem­bers of the cen­tral com­mit­tee.

“That’s a per­son­nel mat­ter that we’re go­ing to have to dis­cuss at the cen­tral com­mit­tee,” said John Stew­ard, the party’s 9th dis­trict chair­man. Stew­ard said the meet­ing is to “take a com­plete as­sess­ment of where we are and what our next step will be.”

In a state­ment Fri­day, the Meck­len­burg County Young Repub­li­cans called for “work­ing with the cen­tral com­mit­tee in re­mov­ing from lead­er­ship those who no longer de­serve our trust based on the last year,” cit­ing elec­tion losses in the state Supreme Court and leg­is­la­ture, the in­val­i­dated 9th dis­trict elec­tion and now Hayes’ in­dict­ment.

The ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor han­dles the day-to-day op­er­a­tions of the party staff. Wood­house said the of­fice is al­ready mov­ing on from Hayes’ in­dict­ment.

“The party is func­tion­ing and run­ning as it’s sup­posed to. It’s big­ger than one man and frankly its rules are set up in a way to pro­tect it­self from er­rors made by any one elected of­fi­cer,” he said. “Those rules and pro­to­cols worked very well here.”

Woodard and Wood­house said they do not ex­pect any other party of­fi­cials to be charged. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment does not ex­pect the party to re­turn any money, Wood­house said.

Wood­house said his tes­ti­mony be­fore the grand jury showed steps that the party took to stay in com­pli­ance, in­clud­ing push­ing back on some of the re­quests from Lind­berg and his associates to fun­nel money directly to state­house can­di­dates or ac­cept train­ing from spe­cific com­pa­nies.

A new per­ma­nent chair­man will be elected by del­e­gates to the state con­ven­tion in June in Con­cord.

De­clared can­di­date Jim Wo­mack, chair­man of the Lee County GOP, said he would not re­tain Wood­house as ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor if elected, claim­ing that while he’s a “huge fan” of Wood­house he wants some­one “quiet and me­thod­i­cal” in the role.

Another po­ten­tial can­di­date said the Repub­li­cans have to make big changes.

“The party needs to as­sess the en­tire staffing model (at its head­quar­ters on Raleigh’s) Hillsborough Street and con­fig­ure our staff in a way that re­duces fric­tion, al­lows for or­ganic growth and does not cre­ate sys­temic chal­lenges,” said Dan Barry, a pre­vi­ous Union County GOP chair who is con­sid­er­ing run­ning for party chair­man. “Whether Dal­las has a role in that or not is not some­thing I’m in a po­si­tion to say.”

Hayes’ in­dict­ment comes on the heels of elec­tion fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict. The state board of elec­tions found “a co­or­di­nated, un­law­ful, and sub­stan­tially re­sourced ab­sen­tee bal­lot scheme” in two 9th dis­trict coun­ties tied to Re­pub­li­can can­di­date Mark Har­ris. The board or­dered a new elec­tion in Fe­bru­ary.

“What you saw in North Carolina 9 is very dif­fer­ent than what we’ve seen re­ported this week. Hav­ing said that, we have to have some quick ac­tion on lead­er­ship and get­ting our mes­sage out as a state party,” U.S. Sen. Thom Til­lis, a for­mer NC House speaker, said in an in­ter­view with McClatchy. “We’re go­ing to be the host of the 2020 con­ven­tion, and you’re al­ways try­ing to find ways to im­prove your brand and take away from any dis­trac­tions.”

Char­lotte is host­ing the 2020 Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion. The state is also im­por­tant to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re-elec­tion bid, and Til­lis’ re-elec­tion is key to keep­ing GOP con­trol of the Se­nate.

Paul Shu­maker, a cam­paign con­sul­tant for Til­lis, Sen. Richard Burr and sev­eral U.S. House mem­bers, said in­sta­bil­ity at the state party can af­fect fed­eral can­di­dates and even the pres­i­den­tial race, par­tic­u­larly as it re­lates to turnout and vic­tory pro­grams. Be­cause of North Carolina’s im­por­tance, he said, the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee could “work to pro­vide that sta­bil­ity mov­ing for­ward.”

While many Repub­li­cans ex­pressed dis­may at their sit­u­a­tion, few thought the episodes would cre­ate any longterm dam­age to can­di­dates dur­ing elec­tions.

“Af­ter the June con­ven­tion, if we have de­cent man­age­ment be­tween now and June 8th or 9th, the party will be fine,” said Carl Mis­chka, the party’s 3rd dis­trict chair. Mis­chka called for Hayes to re­sign.

Said Doug Heye, a Re­pub­li­can strate­gist who worked pre­vi­ously for Burr: “It’s a black eye for the party, but vot­ers aren’t vot­ing for party lead­ers or party chairs. ... Elec­torally, it’s not some­thing vot­ers are go­ing to be fo­cused on when they’re at the polls.”

CASEY TOTH [email protected]­sob­server.com

NC GOP Chair­man Robin Hayes, left, lis­tens as NC GOP Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Dal­las Wood­house speaks in this file photo.

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