Raleigh, N.C. — The man who led the formal defense of Hasan Harnett, the North Carolina Republican Party chairman who was removed from office Saturday, says that his words are being "twisted" by Robin Hayes, the state GOP's new chairman.
Members of the nearly 600-member executive committee, which voted to oust Harnett, were instructed not to talk about the substance of what amounted to a behind-closed-doors trial held at the McKimmon Center on the North Carolina State University campus, an agreement that Jim Womack said he had been willing to abide by.
But Womack said the words he used to defend Harnett have been twisted by Hayes, a former congressman and who had served as party chairman in 2011 and 2012, in public comments made after Saturday's meeting.
"It was a kangaroo court that removed our chairman," Womack said.
Harnett was out of town when the executive committee removed him and has not offered public comment since the action.
Hayes made the remarks that incited Womack to break his silence shortly after the meeting ended during an interview with WRAL News and The News & Observer.
Referring to Harnett, Hayes said, "He did not have the background, the experience and the leadership skills that come from being immersed in the process over a number of years. The person who was speaking on his behalf said that in the beginning (of the meeting). I'm just repeating what is own people said."
Womack said Hayes mischaracterized what he had said, making it appear as if he were critical of Harnett's background.
"We didn't elect the typical inside-politics leader," Womack said, explaining why Harnett appealed to the grassroots activists who buoyed his bid last summer.
Harnett, he said, was chosen on a pledge to be more responsive to the grassroots and change the way the party operated rather than his facility for chairing meetings or dealing with the party's various committees.
"What we elected was a person who was popular for his advocacy around the state," Womack said.
None of that, Womack said, was meant as a criticism of Harnett or should be taken to imply that the now-former chairman wasn't up to the job.
Womack said Hayes might have been piqued by evidence that showed Harnett was a better fundraiser than Hayes. Regardless, Womack said, Hayes was bucking the rules of the very meeting that brought him back to the party chairmanship.
"I call for his immediate resignation," Womack said.
Asked for comment, party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse defended Hayes and the process. Many of those on the executive committee backed Harnett last summer but nonetheless "voted to remove him by a margin of 70 percent for the major violations of party rules and gross inefficiency," Woodhouse said.
Since then, Woodhouse said, Hayes has been working to patch up differences with Harnett supporters.
"Our energy is now 100 percent focused on our exciting convention this weekend, the national nominating convention in Cleveland and victory in November, which has already been aided this morning in an uptick of donations because of the stable hand of leadership Mr. Hayes offers," Woodhouse said.
The state Republican Party will hold its convention in Greensboro this coming weekend.