RALEIGH — After a tumultuous year, the N.C. Republican Party elected energy consultant Michael Whatley as their new chairman at their annual convention on June 8.
“Michael Whatley has been with us right from the beginning. A great Leader and @NCGOP Chairman!” Tweeted President Trump a few days later.
North State Journal sat down with Whatley, who ran on the idea of a ‘Reset in Raleigh’, to talk about the transition and to answer the question of what happens next.
“You know, obviously we rolled up our sleeves this week, dug in and had a bunch of meetings here, a bunch of meetings in Washington D.C.,” said Whatley who said he had been “touching base” with all of the groups involved and getting the briefings on different activities within the party.
“It’s been a good week. It’s been a really good week,” Whatley said.
Once the housekeeping items are squared away, the to-do list for the new chairman will include focusing on the 2019 special elections and the 2020 races to “make sure that we understand exactly where we are before we start marching out forward.”
“Well, first things first is we’ve got the special elections in the ninth and the third [congressional districts],” said Whatley. “We know that Dan [Bishop], has already come out of the primary there in the ninth and want to make sure that everything that we can do as a party to help him that we were going to be doing.
Whatley continued, noting the runoff in the third congressional district would be a wait and see type situation, saying that “we’ll see whether that’s going to be Joan (Perry) or Greg (Murphy) and make sure we have the ability to step in and help them.”
“This election cycle is one of the most—if not the most—important election cycles of my lifetime,” said Whatley.
The chairman explained how he got started in politics as a volunteer for Jesse Helms in 1984 and that he remained active in North Carolina and nationally for 35 years.
During that long history of political activity, Whatley served as a Chief of Staff for former U.S. Senator and Salisbury native Elizabeth Dole, as well as being a Senior Official at the Department of Energy under President George W. Bush.
Whatley explained he had never seen “a cycle like this one” and that, in part, spurred him to get into the race for the chairman spot.
“I’ve never seen a cycle like this where we’ve got such a great opportunity to pick up the Republican Governor,” Whatley said. “We’re going to have the most expensive Senate race in the country, and, obviously, President Trump has to win North Carolina. We’ve got to deliver the votes for him.”
The resignation of former NC GOP Chairman Robin Hayes and his subsequent legal issues in connection with alleged bribery charges connected to the N.C. Dept. of Insurance and political donor, Greg Lindberg, also played a role in Whatley’s decision to run.
“It really looked to me like we needed somebody to step up and fill the breach and make sure that we’re going to lead the party going forward,” said Whatley. “You throw the convention being here on top of that – I mean, it just really brings a magnifying glass to everything here in the state.”
Whatley continued, saying it was “very compelling for me to make sure that we’re going to be able to deliver those votes, and the Republican party is just a huge, huge fulcrum for a lot of those activities.”
Hitting a reset in Raleigh was just one part of Whatley’s campaign to be chairman. He also highlighted the importance of judicial races in the state.
“I think we want to have a dedicated program here that’s going to be able to support our candidates for the court of appeals and the Supreme Court,” Whatley said.
Whatley said that over the course of the next week, he would be meeting with Justice Paul Newby, who has announced his run for Chief Justice, and the other candidates in order to figure out what support they already had in place and what they’re going to need down the road.
In the last election, former N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Barbara Jackson lost her seat to Anita Earls, a lawyer and activist who has sued the state in the past over Voter ID and other voter-related issues. When asked if Jackson had been approached to run again, Whatley said that he had spoken with her but there was no indication Jackson would run again.
Whatley added that “obviously she would be a strong candidate if she were to decide to get in.”
Look for part two of the interview with Michael Whatley in the next edition of North State Journal.