RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Less than a year after the North Carolina Republican Party's first black chairman was elected over an establishment candidate, a powerful committee has reprimanded him and restricted his duties, accusing him of overstepping his authority.
The state GOP's Central Committee censured Hasan Harnett on Sunday with a "no confidence" resolution partly due to his actions on the party's upcoming convention and its computer system.
"I certainly think that he has not demonstrated the leadership capacity that is needed to be the chairman of the Republican Party," said state Rep. David Lewis, a Republican National Committee member and Central Committee member. He called Harnett's actions the result of either" intentional malfeasance or just ineptitude."
Lewis himself faced an unsuccessful effort by party activists to remove him as an RNC member in January. The committee's resolution alleges Harnett wrongly acted on personnel decisions and improperly evaluated attempts to remove party leaders.
Harnett declined to comment when reached by phone. But he has recently defended himself in social media postings, referring to "silly tricks, attacks and lies" against him. Daniel Rufty, one of his allies on the Central Committee, called the committee's actions part of a "witch hunt" by party leaders against Harnett's efforts to give more influence to grassroots Republican activists who elected him last June.
"They're out to destroy Harnett, and they've been doing that since day one," Rufty said Monday. The state GOP also said the committee had censured Rufty on Sunday "for false and malicious statements about other Republicans."
Removing Harnett from office would require a two-thirds vote of the 500-plus member GOP executive committee.
The fight comes as Republicans in North Carolina hold control of the legislature and the governor's mansion simultaneously, a prize they won in 2013 for the first time in more than 140 years. But redistricting lawsuits and Donald Trump's potential presidential nomination raise uncertainty about how GOP down-ballot candidates will fare in November.
Harnett, from the Charlotte suburb of Harrisburg, had been a campaign manager for a 2014 congressional candidate and minority outreach director for the state GOP when he ran for chairman last year. Gov. Pat McCrory, Lewis and nearly every top elected Republican politician in the state endorsed Harnett's rival.
Harnett has tried to shake things up from the beginning. Arriving for his nomination speech, Harnett entered the delegate hall with a small marching band drum line banging out a beat to rev up the crowd.
By September, the Central Committee, with about 50 voting and non-voting members, chose veteran conservative activist Dallas Woodhouse as the party's executive director, instead of a candidate favored by Harnett's allies. And GOP legislative leaders passed a bill letting them control their own caucus funds otherwise overseen by the party brass.
Earlier this month, when he was locked out of his party email account during what Woodhouse called a server security sweep, Harnett referenced his race, seemingly out of frustration.
"I really question your purpose and motive," Harnett wrote in a March 9 email to Woodhouse and the party treasurer. "I mean seriously, is this some form of ritual or hazing you would put the first black chairman of the NCGOP state party through? Or is it because I am not white enough for you?"
The conflict climaxed recently with a dispute over the cost to attend this May's state convention, according to Republicans. The Central Committee resolution said Harnett reduced prices unilaterally and usurped the committee's power to set the rates.
The party's financial health "has suffered greatly under Mr. Harnett's tenure because he has fallen well short of his own fundraising goals and promises," the state GOP's news release said.
Lee Green, another committee member who couldn't attend Sunday's meeting but backs Harnett, said Monday that Republicans differ on Harnett's authority to set convention details. "He wants to do whatever he can to fulfill his campaign promise and make the convention more accessible," Green said by phone Monday.
RNC Committeewoman Ada Fisher of Salisbury, a Central Committee member who is black, said she wasn't worried about the public's perception of the sanctions against Harnett given his place in party history.
"We did what we thought was right," Fisher said in an interview.