GOP balks at replacement

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Staff Writer

The Beaufort County Republican Party’s executive committee declined to allow the Washington Daily News to attend a key meeting Monday evening.
The gathering was called to consider naming someone to replace former Beaufort County commissioner candidate Cindy Baldwin on the ballot for the Nov. 2 general election.
Over the weekend, onetime candidate Tony “T.J.” Keech announced he wanted to succeed Baldwin, who dissolved her candidacy, reportedly for personal reasons.
Keech, who doesn’t have a seat on the committee, was at the meeting.
He said the vote to decline replacing Baldwin was 10-9.
Larry Britt, party chairman, said the vote was 10-8.
The vote leaves Al Klemm and Stan Deatherage, the two incumbent Republican commissioners, alone in the field with three Democrats — Ed Booth, Jerry Evans and Sonya Shamseldin — and one unaffiliated candidate, Bertie Arnhols.
Three seats are up on the county board this year.
Because the committee’s discussion was private, the reasons behind the individual votes weren’t entirely clear.
Keech indicated he was disappointed with the majority’s conclusion.
“It’s what the party wants to do to, in their words, ‘keep it strong and get two people in,’” he said. “Miss Baldwin went with the belief, which I believe is right, that the Republican Party is about individual freedom and liberty, and she condoned endorsing another candidate.”
Outside the meeting, Baldwin said she had favored Keech’s elevation to the slot she left vacant.
“It was a really tough decision,” she commented. “I did support (Keech). The reason I supported him was to me it was about personal freedom and responsibility, and I would have left it up to Tony to make the decision.”
In an interview, Britt blamed limited voting, the county’s method of electing commissioners, for long odds on the GOP’s chances of picking up a fifth seat on the county board this year.
In a prepared statement released after the meeting, he said, “Even though we look forward to a highly successful 2010 election, we do not underestimate our Democrat opponents. The Republican Party of Beaufort County is more unified this election than we have been for many years and we will continue to promote the Conservative Republican ideals of less government involvement in our lives, less money (out) of our pockets in taxes, more individual freedom and more personal responsibility.”
While the committee shut out the public, it allowed Republican guests and representatives of two local conservative websites, the Beaufort Observer and Beaufort County NOW, to attend the meeting and take notes.
The Beaufort Observer is affiliated with Hood Richardson, a Republican Beaufort County commissioner and state Senate candidate.
Beaufort County NOW is run by Deatherage.
Through the window of party headquarters on Washington’s Market Street, Deatherage, who doesn’t have a place on the executive committee, could be seen addressing the committee.
Britt explained that Deatherage is an ex-officio member of the committee.
Britt said he asked the websites’ representatives to keep everything they recorded off the record.
Just before the session began, Britt said it was time for the Daily News to leave.
Committee member Greg Dority, exiting the meeting to proceed on to another obligation, said he urged Britt to keep the meeting open.
As for a vote to exclude the local newspaper of record, Dority said, “I don’t recall there being one.”
The executive committee is not bound by law to allow any media to attend its meetings. The committee is not a public body.
The Daily News requested that it be allowed to sit in because the committee was discussing whether to select a replacement for Baldwin.
According to Kellie Harris Hopkins, county elections director, state law gave the committee until Aug. 19 — 75 days before the election — to decide whether to name someone to succeed Baldwin.
The law allows but doesn’t require the committee to choose a nominee in the event of a candidate’s withdrawal before the 75-day deadline, Hopkins related last week.