For the next three months, Republican Robert Brawley will be a royal pain in the side of Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina Republican Party.
It’s a role he’s accustomed to.
So far, the former lawmaker from Mooresville is McCrory’s only challenger in the March 15 primary.
He’s already taken some shots. Pledging to fight special interests, he implies that the governor has not. He’ll hammer McCrory over the toll lanes on Interstate 77, a project McCrory has refused to kill. And he’ll raise other issues that the governor’s critics – and Democrats – will be happy to see.
The winner of the primary will likely face either Attorney General Roy Cooper or businessman Ken Spaulding in the general election.
Annoying his party is nothing new for the 71-year-old Brawley.
In 1997, when Brawley threatened to back Democrat Jim Black for House speaker – and thereby return Democrats to power – one GOP lawmaker called him “the Dr. Kevorkian of the Republican Party” after the physician notorious for assisted suicides.
One party official said it would be “the biggest kind of betrayal possible.”
“It shows that he has no principle,” GOP activist Linda Shaw continued. “The Democrats won’t be able to trust him. I don’t think anybody from either party can trust him.”
Any defection would have hurt Republicans who at the time enjoyed a slim 61-59 margin. Brawley told reporters that while he had cut no deals for his vote, he hoped to become speaker pro tem, the House’s second-ranking position.
In the end, Brawley cast his vote for incumbent Republican Speaker Harold Brubaker. Black became speaker two years later, not long after Brawley lost his re-election bid.
The Tillis letter
Brawley returned to the House in 2013 after a 14-year absence. In light of his 18 years of previous service, then-Speaker Thom Tillis named him co-chair of the influential Finance Committee, which oversees state tax policy. But things quickly soured between them.
That May, Brawley turned in his chairman’s gavel and listened to the House clerk publicly read an open letter he’d written to Tillis. It cited a litany of concerns including what he described as shoddy treatment of him and accused Tillis of putting his U.S. Senate campaign ahead of the legislature.
After that, one Republican lawmaker called Brawley “radioactive.” And Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican who took over the Finance post, took pains to make clear that he wasn’t Robert Brawley.
“Being the OTHER Brawley means I am still a Chairman and get along fine with Speaker Tillis,” he tweeted at the time. “More work less drama.”
A loss and an expulsion
For Robert Brawley, May was not a good month in 2014. He narrowly lost a primary to fellow Republican John Fraley. Two weeks later, after his letter to Tillis, he was kicked out of the House Republican caucus.
“I was offered to either accept the no confidence vote and agree not to come to anymore caucus meetings or face a ‘kick me out vote,’ ” he emailed Raleigh’s WRAL at the time. “Having been through the division caused by expelling a member … I opted to accept the no vote and agreed to leave the caucus.”
The next three months should be interesting.