Rhinos are charging at GOP forum | NEWS: Triangles | Indy Week
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Rhinos are charging at GOP forum 

If all you've been reading lately is about state legislators cutting human services, the Wake County Commissioners refusing to pony up that last $5 million for the schools, and the Raleigh City Council squirming at the thought of raising impact fees or taxes to pay for worthy projects, welcome to the parallel universe called the Capital Area Republican Club.

Here, the anguish is equally real, but instead of being about the headlock conservatives in the Cap City have on all our progressive plans, it's caused by what Neal Hunt termed "a creeping liberalism in the city" that threatens Raleigh's very core.

OK, Hunt's evidence was a little skimpy. The City Council voted, over his objection, to include "sexual orientation" on the list of factors about which public policies should be neutral (along with race, creed, color, etc.); and it voted to "dilute" the USA PATRIOT Act, he said, when it adopted a watered-down resolution that said only that any differences between the act and the Constitution should be resolved in favor of the Constitution.

Nonetheless, Hunt offered his "no" votes on these matters as bona fides--along with his service as a college chair in Barry Goldwater's '64 presidential campaign--for his primary campaign against incumbent Sen. John Carrington. The occasion was a candidates' forum sponsored by the club and open to the public, which as near as I could tell consisted of me and the waitstaff at Greenshields pub. (Before I forget, thank you, Republicans, for your hospitality.)

From the get-go, the forum took on the trappings of a purge, with true conservatives rising to state their allegiance to tax cuts, anti-gay legislation, and not incidentally to the man who sat front-row center and is (now that Jesse Helms has hung 'em up) their dearest leader, state Rep. Russell Capps.

Capps, best-known for his opposition to teaching evolution as science (it's an unproven theory, as far as he's concerned, at odds with Biblical truth), is also the president of the Wake County Taxpayers Association, the conservative power base.

Main object of the Capps-led purge: the handful of renegade Republicans who voted with the Democrats for Co-Speakers of the House Jim Black, a Democrat, and Richard Morgan, hereafter to be known as a "rhino" --Republican in name only). In Wake County, this means Rep. Rick Eddins, a Republican whose voting record prior to last year was indistinguishable from Capps' own, but who sinned grievously when he grabbed for power with Morgan's camp.

"Rick," his primary opponent, David Robinson, declared sadly, "in a number of ways, has lost touch, I think, with the Republican base." No more serious charge could have been leveled, but the facts were clear, Robinson said: Eddins had voted in favor of the Morgan-Black version of the state budget, the one that only trimmed human services but failed--in the conservatives' view--to slash them sufficiently.

That's why Robinson "felt called to" run against Eddins. It's why Capps is backing Robinson, as is U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, the Republican who last week proposed that Falls Lake be renamed Lake Jesse Helms, despite the fact that Helms fought it tooth and nail when he was leading the conservative charge in Washington.

Soon, it was clear, the movement conservatives were in the room, their opponents were AWOL. No Carrington. No Eddins. No Rep. David Miner, who's refused to co-sponsor the proposed anti-gay unions amendment to the state constitution and who also voted for the Morgan-Black budget.

Miner's opponent, Cary political consultant Nelson Dollar, was there, as was Capps' ally Rep. Sam Ellis, who faces a primary challenge from Rick Eddins' "distant cousin," Knightdale Town Councilor Jeff Eddins. Ellis favored the crowd of 100 or so with his imitation of Morgan, sticking out his stomach and intoning his allegiance to "loyalty."

Capps, too, has a primary opponent, Morrisville Councilor Thayne Conrad, who wasn't there, either. "Well, the absentees say a lot, don't they?" Capps said, to whoops and hollers, when his turn came late in the fray.

"The state is at a double-crossroads," Capps told his listeners. Unless spending is curbed, he continued, the state will go bankrupt. And "traditional family values" are also in the balance.

And if Republicans don't stand up and fight, Capps suggested, well, he won't have it--and he's got some say in the matter. The Taxpayers Association, he reminded them, helped launch virtually every Republican who's ever won anything in the county, including the members of the current 5-2 GOP majority on the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

But what Capps giveth, he can also taketh away. He's clearly not happy with County commissioners Kenn Gardner, Herb Council and Joe Bryan, who voted for the new Raleigh convention center and to raise county taxes last year when the school board asked.

"We have been ambushed by our friends," Capps said in a letter to the errant commissioners that was posted on the association's Web site after the tax-hike vote. "Your action is being described as just like the rhino Republicans who stole the victory from genuine Republicans in the N.C. House (by voting for the Morgan-Black deal)."

That was last year. This year, as Christine Farr, president of the Capital Area club, noted with approval, the Republican commissioners turned down the school board's plea for extra money. "We let these people know what we think," she said.

Yes, and those who try to evolve, and don't follow scripture, can count on their day of reckoning when the primaries come. Amen.

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