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House Republicans censured a GOP lawmaker critical of Thom Tillis

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M Lewis -
Rep. Robert Brawley, a Mooresville Republican

RALEIGH In a rare move to reprimand one of their own, House Republicans took a vote of “no confidence” that effectively removes a vocal critic of Speaker Thom Tillis from the caucus.

Rep. Robert Brawley, a Mooresville Republican, will remain a member of the Republican majority but will not attend its regular meetings. The GOP lawmakers meet privately and largely determine what legislation gets considered.

In an interview, Brawley suggested Tillis orchestrated the censure in response to his criticism of the speaker during the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

“I do believe in representative government,” Brawley said in an interview, recalling what he told the Republican caucus ahead of the vote. “I do regret that this caucus is controlled like a dictatorship. The message loud and clear to the public is, ‘Say yes to the speaker or be censored, punished or pushed out.’ ”

The “confidence” vote Tuesday in the House Republican caucus sided 52 to 11 against Brawley. Tillis did not attend the meeting.

“There were a number of members who felt uncomfortable discussing privileged information with him because he had the propensity to talk publicly about caucus matters,” said House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, a Hickory Republican.

It’s unclear what privileged information has been disclosed. Starnes said the letter attacking Tillis amid the campaign is what spurred the vote.

Two weeks before the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Brawley wrote a letter that raised questions about Tillis “selling” seats on the UNC system’s governing board to major donors and other issues that echoed tea party critics.

He said tough questions needed to be asked about Tillis’ bid because he would hurt Republicans’ chances against Democrat Kay Hagan in November.

But Brawley’s spat with Tillis, a Huntersville Republican, began last year. It burst into the open when he wrote a letter outlining his grievances and questioning the speaker’s relationship with special interests. It remained private until Tillis had the House clerk read it aloud on the floor.

Brawley resigned as a co-chairman of the powerful Finance Committee and signed a letter of apology.

Brawley, who returned for a 10th term in 2013 after last serving in 1998, faced a Republican challenger in the primary and lost. Top House Republicans openly campaigned against him.

Brawley said that in Wednesday’s caucus meeting he stuck to his guns, suggesting Tillis ran the House “like Obama ran the dictates for Obamacare” and said “we can pay-to-play (in the House), but we cannot disagree with the speaker.”

“I personally believe Republicans do have a problem this fall,” Brawley said in the interview after the meeting. “Kay Hagan is going to have a (field) day out of (the question of) which Thom Tillis we are voting for. And things like this just point it out that much more.”

As he has before, Tillis declined to comment through a spokesperson Wednesday.

Brawley said Starnes told him Tillis “required the (caucus) session to be held.” Starnes denied the statement.

Democrats were quick to jump on the GOP scuffle.

“Speaker Tillis has apparently turned his gavel against his own members to spare himself further embarrassment,” said Ben Ray, a spokesman for a Democratic committee to elect Hagan. “If only the speaker put as much effort into helping North Carolina’s middle class and public schools as he did petty politics.”

Frank: 919-829-4698
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