07/24/04 — GOP gains: A gubernatorial primary and internal squabbling

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GOP gains: A gubernatorial primary and internal squabbling

If there were any doubts that the Republican Party has become a genuine force in North Carolina politics, they should have been erased by Tuesday’s primaries.

The party had three well-known politicians running for governor, along with three lesser-known ones who wouldn’t have been bad nominees. The three front-runners almost tied in the count, and the Republicans qualified for a runoff primary — something that used to happen to Democrats only.

Richard Vinroot of Charlotte, who finished second behind Patrick Ballantine of Wilmington in the governor’s race, graciously declined to demand the runoff. The GOP could use more of that sort of unifying grace.

Some hard-line Republicans had run in a number of state House of Representative districts to try to wrest nominations from sitting Republicans.

That’s something that, just a few years ago, would have been unheard of. If a Republican had won election to an office, his colleagues in the party were happy enough to just leave him alone.

Now they have nearly a majority in the House of Representatives, and they feel emboldened to challenge each other as well as the Democrats.

The hard-liners are angry at Rep. Richard Morgan of Moore County. With the House evenly divided between the parties last year, Morgan joined in a deal to become co-speaker along with a Democrat, former Speaker Jim Black of Mecklenburg.

This bipartisan duo agreed that no legislation would advance unless it had the blessing of both. That, of course, required a little give and take. But when Morgan gave on things like higher taxes, the hard-line Republicans got mad and kicked him off the party’s executive committee.

For several reasons, they should now temper their anger:

For one, hard-line Republicanism could not have ruled the House last year because hard-line Republicans had not been given control by the voters. Republicans have gained in North Carolina but they have not reached their worthy goal of spreading conservatism universally. Meanwhile, Tar Heels who are less conservative must have a proportionate say in the General Assembly.

Also, the deal between Morgan and Black served a good purpose. It allowed the House to function even while split down the middle. Heaven knows what partisan stalling, bickering and chaos might have occurred otherwise.

And finally, the hard-liners would be better served if they concentrated their energies on beating Democrats. They should join their fellow Republicans in a united front in this presidential election year.

Why all the infighting? Because of the depth of the conviction of these hard-line Republicans that their ideals are best for this state and this country.

Among them, for example, is Wayne County’s own Willie Ray Starling, who challenged Republican Rep. Steve LaRoque in the 10th House District. Starling’s commitment to his principles is unequivocal. Like many conservatives, he is zealous in his advocacy of limited government and traditional values. To such people, compromise is anathema, and Morgan represents compromise. Hence, the division.

Starling and some of the other anti-Morgan candidates were beaten Tuesday, and some weren’t. Whether Morgan will have the support he needs in the next Legislature to again broker a seat as co-speaker is unknown. His party might have ruined that chance.

The Republicans who engage in this intraparty feuding may be unwise, but the fact that they feel secure enough to do it is further evidence that the GOP has come a long way in these last few years.

Published in Editorials on July 24, 2004 11:36 PM