Controversy surrounds NC GOP race between Hayes and challenger Womack

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
A delegate wears a bag on his head as Republican Party chairman Robin Hayes speaks during the General Session of the NCGOP State Convention at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro

RALEIGH — The election for leadership at the N.C. Republican Party is getting heated as Lee County GOP Chairman Jim Womack campaigns to oust current state Chairman Robin Hayes at the party’s state convention in June. Hayes was appointed chairman last year by party leadership after then-chairman Hasan Harnett was removed amid allegations that he improperly accessed party documents, violated organizational rules and failed to raise the funds needed to adequately finance the party’s operations. One of Harnett’s biggest cheerleaders, the newly elected party head in Lee County, Womack now says he wants to take the reins of the N.C. GOP, challenging Hayes. His announcement brings to the forefront a difficult time of intra-party division and squabbles, a time that party activists hoped was long over and buried.Womack defended Harnett at the April executive committee meeting when the former chairman was accused of hacking into the party’s website to change the prices of the 2016 convention without authorization. Harnett did not appear at the meeting in his own defense, but authorized Womack to speak for him.Despite Womack’s effort, more than two-thirds of the committee voted to oust Harnett and replace him with former Congressman Hayes, prompting Womack to call for Hayes’s removal.Womack was quoted by a local TV station as saying “It was a kangaroo court that removed our chairman,”Print media also reported at the time that Womack angrily said that “Helen Keller could lead this party better than Robin Hayes.”Womack surprised many when he attended the 2016 party convention, drawing attention and cameras by donning a paper bag over his head in protest. “We were being suppressed at the convention,” Womack told the Raleigh Republican Club when asked about his behavior at the 2016 convention. “I believe in… making my voice heard, and there were several of us that had paper bags and put them over our heads in a show of defiance…. It was just our way of showing disaffection with the party in a constructive way.”Current 13th District Chair Zak Crotts, who also served as the party’s assistant treasurer, said the N.C. GOP’s finances have improved dramatically since Hayes took over. Crotts was originally a Harnett supporter, but said the turmoil, breaking of party rules, and lack of fundraising had to be addressed before the critical 2016 elections. “The removal of the chairman was a difficult time for us, said Crotts ” But as we were coming together and electing delegates to nominate our next president, I was shocked to see Womack with a bag on his head. How ironic that the man who did not want to show his face with his fellow Republicans just one year ago, now wants to be the face of the North Carolina Republican Party.”Crotts says the parties finances improved dramatically after Hayes was selected and gave the party “a fighting chance in the elections.”The battle over leadership of the state party comes just months after Republicans worked for victories in November elections, sending the state’s electoral votes to President Donald Trump, re-electing Sen. Richard Burr and flipping three Council of State seats. The loss of the executive mansion to Democrat Roy Cooper by less than two-tenths of a percentage point stung, but overall state Republicans say 2016 was a success.Now Republicans from across the state will converge on Wilmington from June 2-4 to tap the leader who will raise funds and develop the strategy for taking on the 2018 mid-term elections.