‘A fight they don’t want to start’: local GOP divided

Published 10:39 pm Friday, September 28, 2012

“I believe the Beaufort County Republican Party is dead,” said Larry Britt, past chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party.

He shared his thoughts at Thursday night’s Beaufort County Republican Club meeting at Woogie’s Restaurant.

Britt said the party had a disease that had been making it sick for a while, namely a division between “hardcore conservatives” and “conservatives.”

Registering as a Republican was no longer enough.

He said the Republican Party was controlled by people who wanted to define who and what a “true Republican is.”

Britt said Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson was the root of the problem.

“We’re far from powerless… If we’re fed up with Hood Richardson being the face of Republicans in the county, we must do something,” Britt said.

He questioned Richardson’s record and effectiveness on the commission.

“After 16 years, Hood Richardson can only get one commissioner to vote with him,” Britt said. “He talks, but he doesn’t get results.”

He said Richardson had fooled his supporters, which he called “Hoodies,” about his voting record. One example given was the Quick Start II building. Britt said Richardson was on the committee that recommended building QSII and made the motion to do so.

“He even made the motion to paint it blue and white,” Britt said. “We’ve got to tell other people he did. I think we’ve just got to start telling people there’s another Republican Party in this town.

“We’ve got to get conservative people, not hardcore conservatives, on the commission. And, as the very last resort, hope that the Democrats win.”

When Britt chaired the party, he said he tried to keep things balanced in the party and worked to unite opposing sides, but “hard-core conservatives” did not want to unite.

Richardson said he had a right to support any candidate he wanted.

“It’s an election and we’re picking winners,” he said. “I’m glad they’ve made this public. They seem to think that anybody that calls themselves a Republican is a Republican. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

Richardson defines a Republican as someone who wants smaller government, less taxes, less regulation and more independence for the individual.

Commissioner Al Klemm disagrees.

He told the Republican Club Thursday night Republicans do not have to think and feel the same way about every issue.

“Republican politics, to me, are about independent thought,” he said. “That’s what makes us good.”

Richardson said Klemm and Commissioner Jay McRoy were liberal thinkers.

“Jay has voted with the Democrats on key issues 84 percent of the time. How can you call yourself conservative when you’re voting with liberals 84 percent of the time? Klemm is the same. He does whatever Jay tells him,” Richardson said.

Richardson is head of a second club of Republicans. The Conservative Republican Club has no official ties to any party and supports only conservative candidates, he said.

Gary Brinn, a Republican candidate for the commission, said he had been accused of not being a conservative. He questioned Richardson’s right to define what a Republican is when he had switched parties.

“I think it takes a lot of gall to call somebody ‘not a true conservative’ when he’s changes parties with whichever way the wind blows,” Brinn said.

Richardson said he’s been a Republican all of his life. In 1992 and 1993, when he thought his political career had ended, he registered as a Democrat to help the Republican Party.

“I voted for the weakest Democrats I could find,” he said.

Richardson said he was not responsible for the QSII. In fact, he said he was responsible for selling it after McRoy and Klemm kept it off the market to anyone but their own cronies.

“They’re beginning to feel the heat and trying to take me down,” Richardson said. “I’m not a king. There’s boards and commissions and everything else.”

Richardson said those who spoke against him at Thursday’s meeting were not elected officials, but people who had run for offices and lost.

“My challenge to them is if you guys are so good, why don’t you get elected?” Richardson said. “This is a fight they don’t want to start.”

One complaint club members expressed Thursday was that the party was not supporting all Republican candidates equally. Signs of candidates like Gary Brinn were covered and voting cards being circulated failed to list all Republican candidates.

Charles Hickman, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, said the party supports all of its candidates and party funds were not used on any voting cards.

“The party is not doing any of this. That’s absolutely 100 percent false. It would be inappropriate,” he said. “I’m speechless. So much of this…it’s childish and just not true.”

Richardson confirmed that he used his own funds to make the cards.

Hickman said he was disappointed to hear that party members were feeling powerless and ignored. He has noticed the division since getting involved with the party in 2003, but had hoped they had gotten past it.

Since becoming chairman, Hickman tries to attend both clubs’ meetings and sticks to the party’s platform when making executive decisions.

“My advice to both sides is to remember that we’re in a general election. It’s time to unify,” Hickman said. “Let’s unify then have a ‘Battle Royale’ to celebrate.”