Doug Clark had a couple of questions when I filed this week's newspaper column: Why did I not use the name of Jeff Hyde's ally, and how important was it to include the URLs of the blogs mentioned?
My answers: Although the name is public and easy to find on blogs, including this one, it's not of great importance to this analysis of the story, the guy's not running for office, and leaving it out it seemed a simple kindness to the family; I told Doug I'd discussed this with a trusted adviser (thanks, Mom) and it seemed worth the clunky prose. The web addresses, I conceded, look terrible in print -- even moreso on the new, narrower pages -- but I think linking out is just the way we journalism now.
Thanks to Doug for listening. This concludes today's tour of the sausage factory. You can read the column -- it's about the contest within the Guilford County Republican Party and its echoes of national politics -- after the jump.
Local politics, national trends
by Edward Cone
News & Record
If the recent fight for control of the Guilford County Republican Party brings to mind nothing more than the old saw about academic politics being vicious because the stakes are so low, think again. This is a story with legs.
The bruising contest, which ended with the March 14 election of McLeansville’s Al Bouldin as party chairman, mirrors some major themes in national politics and raises questions as well about what happens next at the local level. It’s also been absorbing political theater, a saga as up-to-date as the tea party phenomenon and Facebook, with timeless subplots, including religious redemption and dark secrets revealed.
A quick recap: Jeff Hyde was running for party chairman against Theresa Yon. Hyde, a relative newcomer to politics who lost a state Senate race last year to Democratic warhorse Don Vaughan, is aligned with the Conservatives for Guilford County (C4GC) group, itself strongly identified with the tea party movement. In late February, one of Hyde’s close allies alleged that members of the “GOP establishment” planned to blab about her husband’s felony record in order to smear Hyde by association. Denials and counter-accusations flew, with the party’s senior leaders dragged into the fray. Yon dropped out of the race at the last minute, saying she had become a lightning rod in a needless storm. Bouldin stepped in and won by a close margin over Hyde, who alienated some party members with a divisive speech on election night.
So there’s your first big theme: the tea party versus the GOP establishment. It’s playing out at the state and local levels across the country, and it’s visible in John Boehner’s struggle to manage the Republican freshmen in Congress. Big names and long careers are threatened as people dissatisfied with the hierarchy of the party they generally support jostle for position. (Which makes me wonder, where is the Democratic equivalent of this uprising? The continuing influence of the disaster-prone Wall Street wing of the party practically begs for a populist revolt.)
Another story visible in microcosm is the disruptive role of the Internet in politics. This was a drama driven by a pair of online gaffes. The first public mention that Hyde’s C4GC ally had an ugly past came in a Facebook posting by the ally’s own wife, who not only claimed blackmail was afoot but blamed Greensboro City Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan for spreading word of his long-ago transgressions. In fact, many journalists and bloggers (including me) had known of the man’s record since he first emerged on the political scene but had not published anything about it because he was not running for office himself. The incendiary remarks about Vaughan led to a post at my blog, and the genie was not only out of the bottle but running around hitting people over the head with it.
But it was another online blunder that whacked the hornet’s nest in the first place. Former Fox 8 sports announcer Rich Brenner, a player in GOP circles, accidentally posted a message to a public Facebook page about a plan to gather information on Hyde’s ally, voicing his apprehensions about C4GC’s hardline brand of conservatism. Brenner and other GOP insiders continue to insist no smear campaign was intended or executed; at least some of Hyde’s supporters don’t believe them. (I am indebted to the reporting of bloggers Joe Guarino and Sam Spagnola for many of these details; my coverage is linked here.)
One other plot point with a national echo involves redemption through faith, and its validity as political currency. Newt Gingrich, for example, is hoping that his adulterous past is rendered moot by his recent religious awakening (he also blames his wandering ways on his love of country, giving fresh relevance to the dictum that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel). In like manner, friends of Hyde’s ally have argued that his record of sex with an underage girl is irrelevant to any current political activity, because he’s a changed man. The fact is that people can change and earn second chances, but it’s unrealistic to expect a profession of faith, however sincere, to trump all else in the minds of voters.
The impact of this internecine fight on local politics is unclear. Under the quiet leadership of past Chairman Bill Wright and Executive Director Tony Wilkins, the Guilford County GOP focused successfully on bringing fiscal conservatism to city politics. It did less to change Guilford County’s cronytastic governance, the latter being a prime focus of C4GC activity. To the extent that the party is able to harness the energy of newcomers, it comes out ahead.
But if it succumbs to infighting and personal feuds, it loses, and given the demographics and voting patterns of Greensboro, more-strident leadership could push the Republicans back to the margins.
One early indicator of how things shake out could come with an anticipated run for City Council by Wilkins, who was targeted by name in Hyde’s controversial election-night speech; if the elephant-on-elephant violence continues into that race, the healing could be a long time coming.
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