Politics & Government

NC GOP committee to meet, could consider removing Dallas Woodhouse

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-to-day 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 long-term 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.”

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.