Are staffing changes in the wind at the N.C. GOP?

NC GOPRALEIGH — In an interview Tuesday, incoming N.C. Republican Party Chairman Hasan Harnett said that he had no immediate plans to change staff at GOP headquarters. But insiders tell J&B that they are worried that Harnett will push out experienced staff with good track records, including Executive Director Todd Poole.

Poole was the choice of former chairman Claude Pope, who hired him in August 2013. It would not be unusual for a new chairman to ask the party’s Central Committee to appoint a new executive director to handle day-to-day functions. That is especially true in this case, since Pope and other members of the GOP establishment endorsed one of Harnett’s opponents for chairman.

But even some of those excited about Harnett think that holding on to Poole is a good idea. Joyce Cotten, a member of the party’s Central Committee, was complimentary of Harnett but said she would be concerned if Poole left.

“I want to see him stay on,” Cotten said of Poole. Cotten, who did not take sides in the chairman’s race, is impressed with Harnett so far. But she thinks he lacks experience in some areas and can benefit from veteran staff.

“Todd has a great feel for how things need to be done across North Carolina,” said Cotten, who said she believes Poole and his team have widespread support in the Central Committee, which has 33 voting members including Cotten and Pope.

Other members of the Central Committee, which would need to approve any change in executive director, echoed Cotten’s praise of Poole.

“Todd provided calm leadership and direction in a busy and tumultuous election season,” said Zan Bunn, member from Cary. “I hope that he is able to stay.”

Ted Alexander, former mayor of Shelby and the party’s new 10th District chairman, called an effort to replace staff ill-timed.

“With a major presidential and senate race just around the corner, replacing one whose expertise and hard work helped deliver the state for the Republicans, just for the sake of replacement, would be terribly misguided,” Alexander said.

Todd Poole, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party

Todd Poole, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party

Poole has been around North Carolina politics for a long time, having worked as an aide to then-Rep. Richard Burr and serving as chief of staff for Rep. Virginia Foxx when Burr was elected to the Senate and Foxx replaced him in the U.S. House. Poole, originally from Advance in Davie County, has also worked for many federal, state and local campaigns as a volunteer and political consultant.

There is no question that elections have gone the GOP’s way since August 2013. Not only did the party maintain super-majorities in the General Assembly, but Thom Tillis knocked off incumbent Democrat Senator Kay Hagan and the party saw gains at multiple levels of government, including the election of Mark Martin to the N.C. Supreme Court and the switch of the N.C. Court of Appeals, which is now majority Republican.

It is debatable how much credit for that goes to GOP staff. But one former high-level N.C. GOP staffer, who worked at GOP headquarters with several different executive directors, said that Poole’s team is “at the top of the list in performance and results.”

“Todd is able to bring people together, give them a seat at the table, and solve problems without lasting acrimony,” the staffer said. “He has been able to put out bad fires and start the right ones.”

While Poole may be seen as a vestige of the outgoing establishment chairman and the establishment party types, Alexander says he has no doubt that Poole will work as hard and loyally for Harnett as he did for Pope. Bunn says that Poole proved that during the race for chairman.

“He was fair and evenhanded – and that hasn’t always been the case [with executive directors],” Bunn said. Now that the race is over, Bunn says keeping Poole and the current team on the payroll will help bring the party together.

“Continuity in staffing will help bring others around,” Bunn said.

NOTE:  This article was updated June 19 with quotes from Ted Alexander.