Stanly County GOP schism persists beyond primary

Locals seek to remove party chairman

RALEIGH — While Republicans are seated in most of the key elected positions representing Stanly County, several members of the party are seeking the removal of county chairman Phil Burr.

According to Gerald Poplin, he and others have reached out to state GOP chairman Robin Hayes and Eighth District GOP Chair Kelsey Brown concerning Burr. Poplin said in a phone interview with Stanly County Journal that his list of grievances against Burr is long and includes the local party’s lack of fundraising, the absence of a local GOP headquarters and his allegation that Burr has favored certain candidates in GOP primaries.

Brown confirmed that Poplin and seven other Stanly County citizens met with him on Friday seeking advice on ways to remove Burr from his position as county chair. Brown said by phone that he told the group he does not have any authority over the local party.

“I told them, I don’t have power over this,” said Brown. “The power lies locally with the people of Stanly County per the plan of organization. My advice to them was to attend the next county convention.”

Burr, whose son Justin is a state representative, has been the chair for 10 years and questioned the motives of those trying to have him removed.

“This is a personal vendetta,” said Burr. “These complainers don’t regularly attend our current meetings.”

When asked about the specific concerns of the group, Burr took each one in turn.

“I love having Lincoln Day Dinners and we’ve had them in the past,” he said. “The last two years we have tried to have combined events with Rowan and Cabarrus and the plans fell through.”

On allegations that he does not maintain neutrality in GOP primaries, Burr was clear.

“I can’t endorse a candidate as the chairman and I never have done that,” he said. “But being the chairman doesn’t stop my first amendment right to speak personally.”

When asked whether calls for Burr to step down were more about Burr’s performance as chairman or more about recent defeats of Burr’s son and others in the May primary, Poplin said it was more about “the Burr family.” Poplin added that after the defeat of Rep. Justin Burr in the primary and other prominent incumbent losses, “the only one left is Daddy Burr.”

Poplin expressed frustration that the local party did not have a Lincoln Day Dinner, a traditional annual event held by many local Republican groups around the country, and that the party has not had a headquarters in two years.

“No one will give money to Phil Burr,” said Poplin, who added that the local party had less than $700 in the bank.

Burr, when asked about fundraising and the current bank balance of the party, confirmed that the party currently has “about $600 in the bank.”

“We don’t hold onto people’s money, we spend it to support Republican candidates,” Burr said. “I think the number of Republicans elected in Stanly County and our support for the Eighth District and statewide Republicans speaks for itself.”

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party said, “We think a lot of the people in Stanly County, and they are the ones to decide who leads their local party.”

The next county convention will be in March 2019. Poplin said that his group was continuing to explore options to remove Burr before then. When asked if he would seek re-election in March, Burr would not comment.