RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ The North Carolina Republican Party’s first Black state chairman was removed from his post Saturday, the climax of months of conflict with other party leaders who recently censured him for exceeding his authority and trying to crash a GOP website.
More than two-thirds of roughly 280 members attending the party’s Executive Committee required to throw out Hasan Harnett voted to do so at the private, trial-like meeting in Raleigh that lasted several hours, according to meeting participants. Committee members earlier Saturday found Harnett responsible for violating the GOP’s organizational rules and committing acts of “gross inefficiency.”
The committee later Saturday was considering a replacement for Harnett, who was elected last June with the backing of activists aligned with the tea party. The state’s top elected leaders, including Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, wanted Harnett’s rival to win.
Harnett was out of the country Saturday on a previously-announced business trip, according to ally Daniel Rufty, chairman of the party’s 12th Congressional District. Jim Womack, a Lee County party official made Harnett’s case before the committee. Womack confirmed Harnett’s removal but said he wasn’t authorized to comment more. Before the meeting, about 15 Harnett supporters demonstrated outside the building where it was meeting. “NC GOP Elites GO HOME!” read one placard.
Executive Committee members petitioned successfully for the emergency meeting after the party’s smaller board of directors censured Harnett on March 20, limiting his powers and denying access to the party email.
Specifically, the Central Committee accused Harnett of unilaterally trying to lower registration fees to attend next weekend’s state GOP convention without permission, criticizing other party leaders publicly and trying to interfere with the party’s computer system. Harnett’s critics have affidavits suggesting he tried to get a computer professional to crash the convention website and create an alternative site to collect convention proceeds.
Harnett said allegations against him are untrue or simply the result of differing views of party rules. A written rebuttal of the charges against him handed out to meeting participants by his “defense team” call the computer-related accusations “innocent activities performed by the chairman with absolutely no malice or impropriety toward the NC GOP or our convention delegates.”
An angry and frustrated Harnett emphasized his race and place in state party history when he was locked out of his party email account in early March _ before the Central Committee’s censure of him _ as part of what was called a server security sweep.
“I mean seriously, is this some form of ritual or hazing you would put the first Black chairman of the NCGOP state party through?” he wrote in early March to the party’s executive director and treasurer. “Or is it because I am not White enough for you?”
Harnett in recent weeks called for a truce with the 50-member Central Committee and proposed terms of reconciliation, including apologies. But several of Harnett’s predecessors last week publicly expressed support for Harnett’s removal, writing that he had “demonstrated time and time again that he is not capable of being chairman.”
Saturday’s meeting brings negative publicity and vibes for divided state Republicans seeking to retain their hold upon North Carolina government in November. Redistricting lawsuits, a tough gubernatorial re-election bid for Pat McCrory and national negative fallout on a new law restricting bathroom use by transgender people and state and local anti-discrimination rules protecting gays and lesbians already are adding to the GOP’s troubles.
Harnett’s defense team wrote “the harm done to our party and our candidates this election cycle will be catastrophic” if Harnett was removed unjustly.