Publisher's Note: This article originally appeared in the Beaufort Observer.
It is entirely possible that N. C. House Speaker Thom Tillis is the most unpopular politician in Eastern North Carolina right now. And it seems to be getting worse with each passing day.
For example, in Sunday's (6-24-12) Beaufort County Now
, publisher Stan Deatherage took Tillis to task over Tillis getting Congressman Walter B. Jones to endorse "Democrat-running-as-a-Republican" Arthur Williams for the House 6 seat. Stan had previously reported on a flap at the recent GOP State Convention
over a flyer that was being handed out that questioned the meddling by state GOP officials/office holders in local GOP primaries. Tillis came out of that flap looking bad when it was reported that he bullied a highly regarded GOP activist on the convention floor. That buzz is not only still around, but appears to be growing as a negative groundswell toward Tillis
and other state GOP leaders.
Tillis already had two strikes against him among many GOP leaders in Eastern North Carolina as a result of his pushing a budget through with increased ferry tolls and how his redistricting committee dealt with Bill Cook and other districts Down East in the redistricting process.
A number of delegates to the Third District Convention in May were primed to pin Tillis down as he was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the Convention. He did not show and did not let anyone know well enough in advance to find a suitable replacement. Similarly, Walter B. Jones did not even attend the Third District Convention, allowing his challenger Frank Palombo to steal the show. At that meeting the Chairman of the Beaufort County GOP Executive Committee gave a report from that group that had adopted a formal protest of Raleigh leaders meddling in local GOP primaries. The report got a resounding applause and reception with numerous other delegations requesting copies. But because the report was too late to be submitted as a formal resolution there was no vote on it taken.
Meanwhile, the firestorm spread. The Observer has learned that at least six other county executive committees have discussed the issue and a number of TEA Party groups have also taken up the issue.
On June 22, 2012, Brant Clifton revealed on his Daily Haymaker
blog who was behind the convention flyer. Clifton also posted a report that documented that it was Tillis who was behind Walter Jones' endorsement of Democrat-running-as-a-Republican Arthur Williams. This was confirmed by Jones' campaign manager, Jonathan Brooks.
On June 20, Linda Harper wrote another state GOP leader, House Majority Leader Skip Stam, and "uninvited" him to speak to a Constitution Seminar meeting on July 21. The sponsor of the seminar is the conservative Citizens for Constitutional Liberties, which is the Wayne County TEA Party group.
Stam and Tillis, along with other GOP leaders, have come under fire from conservative GOP and TEA Party groups recently as a result of their handling of the Voter Photo ID issue and the failure of the General Assembly to take forceful action on nullifying the application of the National Defense Authorization Act's infringement on individual liberties of North Carolinians.
Then, most recently, one of the most highly respected GOP/TEA Party activists in Eastern North Carolina, Lisa Marley, posted a hard-hitting piece entitled Tillis' Bridge to Nowhere. In her post Marley reviews much of what we have outlined above and suggests that the "meddling" in local GOP primary races is related to Tillis trying to build a base in Eastern North Carolina to facilitate a run for the U. S. Senate in 2014 against Kay Hagan.
Not only is it very obvious that much (most?) of the activist GOP leadership at the local level in Eastern North Carolina is very disenchanted with Tillis, if one reviews the reader comments posted in the articles linked above you have to conclude the disenchantment is both wide (beyond Tillis per se) and deep.
The Observer has refrained from reporting on the GOP convention flap, choosing to wait and see how it played out. But it has become obvious to us that Tillis and his staff are persisting in mishandling the controversy related to what the local activists perceive as inappropriate meddling in local political matters at the county level.
But we think this drama is but the tip of a much more serious rift in the GOP in the state. We think it is rooted more in disenchantment by a large number of local leaders that the GOP's leadership in the General Assembly is not performing as they were expected to perform. Hood Richardson
, writing in his column here at the Observer
has pointed out that the actual behavior of the legislative GOP leadership has been quite similar to that of the Basnight/Black regime of earlier years. Hood has pointed out that Tillis and Berger have made no overt attempts to satiate the local GOP leadership on either the meddling issue or other substantive issues.
Some have suggested that Tillis' hands were tied because he did not have a veto proof House. But for most of these activists that is irrelevant. They believe the GOP should govern on principles not on political expediency. Run the bills based on the principles they campaigned on and let the chips fall where they may.
But we think this turmoil within the GOP in North Carolina is even broader than bumbling by the Legislative Leadership. We think it goes all the way to the national GOP leadership, particularly in the U. S. House. The fact that the Congressional leadership has not reigned in Federal spending any more than it has, or stood up to Obama any more effectively than they have, is setting the stage for a major revolt against the GOP, and we would even suggest that it is likely to imperil Mitt Romney's chances of being elected.
People, we believe, are simply tired and disgusted with "politics as usual" both in Washington and in Raleigh. That is why Arthur Williams is such a lightning rod. Many of those who know Williams, even many of his supporters, see him as a political hack, in the mold of the Basnight/Black era. He campaigns to special interests, brags about his connections to Tillis just as he did with Black and that he "knows how things work in Raleigh." That is exactly the opposite of what many conservative GOP and TEA Party folks want in a representative. That is why Bill Cook trounced his "machine endorsed" opponent in the Senate 1 GOP Primary, and why Norm Sanderson did the same in his race against a "handpicked" machine puppet. People Down East are disgusted with the Basnight/Black model.
This may well explain why candidates with strong grassroots supporters are able to beat big-spending candidates who rely on expensive ads such as slick mailers and media commercials. As Norm Sanderson, Bill Cook and Mattie Lawson proved, a good network of energized grassroots volunteers can win even when outspent 2 or 3 or 4 to one.
If Lisa Marley, and others who have speculated the same thing, is right about Tillis' ambition to run for the U. S. Senate (or any statewide office) in the future we would suggest that he surely realizes that he will never be elected to any highly contested statewide race without the "swing vote" Down East. Those are the folks who elected both Jessie Helms and Jim Hunt. That seems a paradox to some, but not to us. The reason Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliated elected both Helms and Hunt, and the reason Pat McCrory lost in 2008, was because these voters swung the other way. The "power block" of voters in the East is the swing voters who will vote Democrat or Republican...or not at all.
In North Carolina, and particularly in the East, this you can bank on: Black voters will vote Democrat. There is a GOP base that will always vote Republican. But there are not enough of them to elect anyone in a highly contested race. To carry most counties Down East you must get the conservative Democrat vote and the GOP base. But that is still not enough. You must get from 10-15% of your vote from unaffiliated voters who do not vote according to party label.
But the absolute determining factor is not the vote distribution per se, but rather the turnout. The share of the votes cast that a candidate gets is determined by one factor and one factor alone: Who turns out to vote.
And that is where the local GOP and TEA Party activists come in. They are the ones who determine the marginal turnout that carries the election. They are not the majority. But they make the majority, depending on which way they swing or whether they turn out voters or not.
A significant percentage of these swing voters will actually vote against selected candidates. That is what hurt Randy Ramsey. And it will hurt Arthur Williams if he happens to win the House 6 run-off. He will not likely get elected in the General Election. There will be a sufficient number of voters who will vote for "anybody but Arthur" to allow Paul Tine to win when you add these swing voters to the solid Democrat base he is guaranteed. The GOP and TEA Party activists actually don't need to vote for Tine. All they have to do is "sit it out." By that we mean not work to turn out the marginal swing voters for the Republican candidate.
Tillis, Berger and the state GOP leadership are making a serious mistake. They cannot win by supporting candidates like Arthur Williams, Randy Ramsey etc. And if the conservative activists sit it out in November, 2012 then candidates like Bob Steinberg, Bill Cook and other Republicans who have to get a high turnout of conservative and Republican voters, along with the swing voters, are going to be in serious trouble. We can even envision the GOP losing their majority in the House, not because thousands of voters voted for Democrats rather than Republicans, but simply because they didn't vote. And it is the activists who turn out the vote. Republican control of the Legislature depends on the activists not taking a walk on election day.
And if that happens (the disenchanted activists take a walk) Mitt Romney is in serious trouble in North Carolina.
All these Republicans who believe conservatives will never vote for Barack Obama are simply being shortsighted. What they are not realizing is that Obama can win because of who does NOT vote and who does not work to get out the "right vote."
So you reckon the Obama Machine is behind all this turmoil in the Republican ranks in North Carolina? Or do you reckon we are witnesses to the death of the Republican Party, both at the national and state levels?
We would suggest that Tillis, Stam, Berger, McCrory et. al. had better start paying attention to what is going on with the TEA Party Down East. The retro-donkeys are not going to get them there.