By Steve Woodward
“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
Among the most beautiful, meaningful sentiments ever recorded, it is found in the Holy Bible, in Second Timothy. Who would not wish to express this emotion at journey’s end?
Michael Whatley and Miriam Chu have finished the race. They’ve kept the faith. The newly elected North Carolina Republican Party Chairman and Vice Chairman most certainly fought a good and fair fight. Now, we begin, together, the next race. Because there always is the next race.
Sausage making is unpleasant. But in the end you have sausage. After an arduous weekend in Concord, not far from a famous speedway where all of the turns go left, the NC GOP righted itself, hopefully, in preparation for the 2020 election cycle.
The stars of convention weekend in Concord’s poorly ventilated convention center were the delegates, 1,368 in total (40 from Moore County). The convention chair, a man who, empowered with a microphone and a gavel, continuously beckoned us to be silent, to be “in order”, to “suspend” (a nice word for shut up), orchestrated a 12-hour day on June 8. It felt like a nonstop flight in coach in the back of a jumbo jet from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa, except with even worse food options.
But it was worth it, I kept telling myself after the convention ran over its scheduled conclusion by 190 minutes, because we landed safely and have reason to be inspired and more optimistic than we’ve been in recent months.
Whatley, who defeated Lee County GOP chairman Jim Womack by a narrow margin with 50.78% of the weighted vote, is well connected within the national Republican party and was instrumental in coordinating Donald Trump’s 2015-16 ground game in North Carolina. Whatley, in his first political race as a candidate, ran for state chair promising to bring about a “reset in Raleigh”. What remains to be seen if he will become familiar enough with the road to Raleigh.
Womack, a former Lee County commissioner, IT sales executive and active duty military serviceman, legitimately argued during the campaign that he was prepared to be a full-time state party chairman at a time when that level of focus is needed. Womack is retired; Whatley is a 12-year partner in HBW Resources, for which he is a government lobbyist in the transportation and energy sectors. He resides in Gastonia, NC, 184 miles by car from the State Capitol, but insists his fellow HBW partners are willing to give him flexibility to chair the party. But Whatley is not retired and has not suggested he is contemplating it.
Political observer and prolific blogger Brant Clifton sizes him up thusly: “Whatley’s experience has been in influence peddling and greasing politicians’ palms. That appears to clearly be what’s most important among the power players in the NCGOP. And it’s the same preoccupation that spawned the environment that led to those five federal indictments on April 2” (and the resignation of former party chair Robin Hayes).
Misgivings about Whatley immediately diminished, however, when Moore County’s political force of nature, Miriam Chu, was narrowly elected vice chair. Everyone who knows Chu knows she does nothing half way or in her spare time because she has none. She is resolute and resilient. Chu reports she traveled 12,000 miles campaigning for the job. What was not mentioned is that much of her traveling took place while she wore a medical “boot” on her left leg.
Chu plans to be a full-time vice chair and, in the lead up to election night, articulated that she sees herself becoming “the liaison between the Chairman and other officers and organizations across the state.”
Speaking Monday before the Moore County Republican Women’s Club, Chu expressed confidence that she and Whatley are ready to move the party into a position of strength as the 2020 election cycle approaches.
Despite a recent party leadership void, elected Republican lawmakers have kept the state on a robust course economically. In Concord, Sen. Paul Newton (NC-36), co-chairman of the N.C. Senate finance committee, reported that this is the fifth consecutive year that our state has experienced a revenue surplus. The 2019 surplus is around $643 million. Meanwhile, the state’s “rainy day” fund has topped $1.1 billion. Newton said consecutive pay raises for public school teachers — a group Democrats always portray as neglected — have resulted in real money piling up for veteran educators. Today, a teacher on track to work for 30 years in the classroom will realize an additional $237,000 in pay as a result of continuous annual raises over the course that career.
The convention also heard from “Right Dan” Bishop, who will square off with his Democrat opponent in a special election for U.S. House in NC-9 in three months. Numerous convention speakers urged state residents outside of NC-9 to donate and volunteer to propel Bishop to victory. A May 24 poll by JMC Analytics and Polling found Bishop leading Democrat Dan McCready 46% to 42%. Notably, 10% weighed in as undecided.
Keep the faith.