Local News

How Will Morgan's Ousting Affect Republican Party?

Posted May 4, 2006 10:26 a.m. EDT

— He is one of the most powerful Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly, but Rep. Richard Morgan did not survive Tuesday's Republican primary.

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    By just 289 votes -- 52 percent of the vote -- political novice Joe Boylan, a businessman who owns three hair salons, beat Morgan in the race for District 52's next state House representative. Boylan takes the seat because there are no Democrats running in the district.

    Morgan served eight terms in the legislative body, but many political observers think he burned too many bridges with ultra-conservative Republicans, who have said he sided with Democrats on key GOP issues.

    "Some of the arguments that were made against Richard were, a couple of years ago, he voted for a budget that had a billion dollars in tax increases in it," said David Sinclair, the managing editor of the local Moore County newspaper, The Pilot. "And he voted for a redistricting plan that pitted Republican against Republican to try to eliminate some of his enemies."

    In 2003, Morgan entered a power-sharing agreement with House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, that allowed them to share the speaker's post. Last session, even though Democrats regained the majority of seats in the chamber, Morgan was appointed to the No. 2 job in the House.

    Republican activists complained that Morgan used his power as co-speaker to punish his enemies in the House, keeping them off committees and providing them meager office space and staff.

    The state GOP, which usually stays neutral in primaries, even endorsed Boylan, a virtual unknown who never before ran for a political seat. It provided at least $63,000 and volunteers to support him, and GOP chairman Ferrell Blount also sent a letter to county voters, signed by several former party leaders, urging them to back Boylan.

    "And obviously, the majority of the people that voted (Tuesday) bought into the argument that Boylan and the anti-Morgan folks were making that Richard was not acting like a Republican," Sinclair said.

    Some say one man is behind Morgan's defeat: former lawmaker and retail executive Art Pope, who has positioned himself as one of the most powerful Republicans in the state.

    Pope and others in the GOP targeted Morgan, as well as other Republicans who backed the Morgan-Black co-speakership, as a traitor.

    "(The Republican primary) was a referendum on Speaker Black's misconduct ... as much as Richard Morgan's heavy-handed tactics," Pope said on Wednesday.

    Black, on Wednesday, called Morgan an effective leader who was taken down by Pope's personal vendetta.

    Pope backed a group called the Republican Legislative Majority Committee, which spent at least $100,000 for mailers calling for the defeat of Morgan and his allies, including Rick Eddins, R-Wake, who lost on Tuesday to Marilyn Avila.

    Another race targeted by Pope and the group, District 10, is still undecided with only nine votes separating incumbent Stephen LaRoque and Willie Starling. Provisional ballots still have to be counted.

    Black said that the effort by Republicans to purge their party of Morgan and others who challenge the party's conservative leadership could mean the end of bipartisanship efforts in the House.

    "Art Pope, with his millions and millions and millions of dollars, made a great splash yesterday," Black said. "A lot of us have the goal of working together, working across the party aisle, and you're not going to see anymore of that, I believe, on the Republican side. You cooperate with Democrats and (Pope's) going to get you in the primary."

    But is Morgan's ousting an indication of the power and support that Pope has?

    "It's an indication that the citizens of North Carolina are fed up with failed policies and corrupt government," Pope said.

    Pope said that Black -- a major fundraiser who is now the subject of state and federal investigations into possible campaign finance violations -- is one to talk, directing his war chest to help legislative supporters.

    As for the Republicans, GOP consultant Ballard Everett said the infighting is a natural, but nasty, part of party growth.

    "I think it's the chaos before the order," said Everett, who sees Black as truly vulnerable for the Democrats. He said he believes Pope's primary election influence sends a message to Republican lawmakers.

    "It says: 'If you're going to be elected as a Republican, go down and act as a Republican,'" Everett said.

    Political observers believe the ongoing campaign finance controversy could hurt Democrats in close races, and that could mean a good election year for Republicans to try to regain control of the House.

    Still, Everett does not believe Republicans have quite enough momentum this year to take back the majority in the General Assembly.

    Pope, however, said that is exactly his mission for November.