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Allegations made last week by a member of the Haywood Republican Alliance that the Haywood County Republican Party recently passed a resolution charging five local Republicans with political “party disloyalty” shocked and angered many across the region and the state.

The recent tug-of-war for control of the Haywood County Republican Party has left many conservatives cringing and embarrassed over the portrayal of petty infighting, but it has played out like a microcosm of the national political landscape.

A shake up in the Haywood County Republican Party has pitted mainstream party members against an ideological “patriot” faction.

The patriot faction recently lost its grip on the party, following a mass ousting from the party’s executive committee during this year’s annual precinct gatherings. But what drove the two branches of the local party apart and resulted in the patriots’ ousting isn’t easy to sum up.

A power struggle has embroiled the Haywood County Republican Party over the past several months, culminating in the mass overthrow of a conservative “patriot” faction by the mainstream branch of the party.

SEE ALSO: Patriot faction of Haywood GOP blindsided by ousting

The story of internal turmoil within the Haywood GOP is a familiar one. Feuding factions have been at loggerheads for several years running. But the latest commotion is more than just another chapter in the same old tug-of-war.

Eddie Cabe suspected something big was afoot in the weeks leading up to the annual precinct gathering of the Haywood County Republican Party. 

An ongoing tug-of-war for control of the Haywood County Republican Party reached a finale last week.

A faction of conservative activists failed in their bid to wrest the chairman’s seat away from Pat Carr, who represents the mainstream party establishment. Carr now hopes the party can overcome the internal division that has plagued it for more than a year.

coverSome mainstream Republicans in Haywood County fear their local party is being hijacked by a far-right faction with extreme views on what limited government should look like. 

The ascension of what some deem the radical right into leadership positions on the party’s executive committee is steering the party into uncharted activist territory, threatening to veer the party off course, they say.

fr machinegunAs Carol Adams approached the table of automatic rifles, she looked giddily around and picked the fully-automatic Swedish K out of the lineup.

“This is my first time ever firing a gun,” she said as she stepped up to the firing range, fired off a few rounds and then switched over to the Heckler and Koch MP5, the same make of gun that killed Osama Bin Laden. She continued firing through the whole magazine.

The crowded Republican field vying for Heath Shuler’s former seat in Congress thinned out by one this week.

Dan Eichenbaum, an eye doctor from Murphy, rode onto the political scene in Western North Carolina in 2010 with the Tea Party wave. At one-time a Libertarian, Eichenbaum preached Tea Party-brand conservatism, had a fierce independent streak and believed strongly in Constitutional liberty.

In a press release Monday, Eichenbaum said he did not have the money to run against some of the more deep-pocketed candidates in the Republican primary. Two of the candidates considered likely frontrunners, Mark Meadows of Cashiers and Ethan Wingfield of Asheville, are independently wealthy with the ability to put more of their own money into the race.

But fundraising aside, Eichenbaum likely faced a tough race regardless. Despite his Tea Party connections, he was not embraced by the Republican establishment. He had failed to win key nods early in the primary season, from local endorsements to the support of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Without that support, Eichenbaum would have had a difficult time.

“The Tea Party name provides candidates an important signal about ideology and a rallying cry for supporters, but electoral politics is about a lot more than signals — it’s also about organization,” said Chris Cooper, a political scientist and professor at Western Carolina University.

Eichenbaum was a close second in the Republican contest for Congress in 2010, coming in just behind the more moderate Jeff Miller. After losing in the primary, however, he burned bridges with the Republican establishment by refusing to support Miller in the general election against Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler.

This year, Eichenbaum was once again among the more conservative Republican candidates. An active Libertarian before switching his affiliation to Republican, he was considered by some in the Republican establishment too radical to win in a general election. Eichenbaum had already garnered endorsements from three Tea Party chapters in the mountains: the Asheville Tea Party, the Cherokee County Tea Party and the Blue Ridge Tea Party.

(Correction: A story in last week’s paper incorrectly stated that Dan Eichenbaum had been endorsed by the Henderson County Tea Party. Instead, he had been endorsed by the Blue Ridge Tea Party, which is also based in Hendersonville.)

Filing deadline

The filing period for the May 8 primary and the November general election ends Feb. 29.

By Christopher A. Cooper and H. Gibbs Knotts

Beginning in 2009 with a series of protests focusing on what participants viewed as excessive government taxation, the TEA Party movement has grown into one of the most prominent political stories of the past few years. Because it is a relatively recent movement and in most places it is still impossible to register with the Board of Elections as a member of the TEA Party, hard data on TEA Party supporters are difficult to come by.

The New York Times produced one of the only surveys focusing on the TEA Party. It found that that 18 percent of Americans self-identified as TEA Party “supporters” and that these supporters tended to be white, educated, fairly well-off, ideologically conservative, and members of the Republican Party. Not surprisingly, the Times survey also found that TEAPartiers are distrustful of the federal government.

Although these findings are illustrative of the country as a whole, what about the situation in Jackson County? To learn more about the degree of TEA Party support among locals, Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute and The Smoky Mountain News teamed up to poll about 600 registered voters in Jackson County on issues related to the TEA Party, as well as other political issues.

The survey data reveal that Jackson County registered voters are evenly split, with 42 percent holding a favorable view of the TEA Party, 40 percent holding an unfavorable view and the remaining 18 percent having no opinion. Although the question’s wording is different than that of the New York Times poll, it does appear that the TEA Party has more support here than in the nation as a whole.

Digging a little deeper into the data reveals that TEA Party supporters in Jackson County are more likely to be male, conservative and registered as Republican than those who do not support the TEA Party.  Given the national results, none of this is terribly surprising.

Considerably more surprising, however, is the influence of education. Recall that in the national sample, TEA Party supporters were more educated than the population at large. In the Jackson County sample, however, those with positive opinions towards the TEA Party have slightly less education than their counterparts.

The Jackson County poll also presents an opportunity to determine how TEA Party supporters feel about local as well as national government. Not surprisingly, TEA Party supporters do not hold a positive view off the federal government. What is more surprising is the size of this effect. A whopping 95 percent of TEA Party supporters hold an unfavorable opinion of the federal government, but among those with unfavorable opinions of the TEA Party only 36 percent hold an unfavorable opinion of the federal government.”

TEA Party supporters aren’t big fans of the Jackson County government, either, but the effect here is much smaller.

Approximately 70 percent of TEA Party supporters disapprove of Jackson County government, compared to 47 percent among those who do not support the TEA Party. Clearly the TEA Party movement, at least here in Jackson County, is much more dissatisfied with federal than local government.

Anyone who walked through the county on Tax Day knows that the TEA Party has some backing in Jackson County, and this polling information can tell us a little bit more about the nature and extent of this support. What our data cannot tell us, of course, is what the exact effect will be on the upcoming elections. The TEA Party has considerable support here in Jackson County, but a true understanding of the group’s electoral impact will have to wait until November.

Christopher A. Cooper and H. Gibbs Knotts are associate professors of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University, where Knotts also serves as department head and Cooper directs the Public Policy Institute.

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