Discord among county GOP leads to video response to State of the County

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Republicans Woody White, Patricia Kusek and Jim Brumit recorded a video response to Beth Dawson's State of the County address. Screen grab from the video.
Republicans Woody White, Patricia Kusek and Jim Brumit recorded a video response to Beth Dawson’s State of the County address. Screen grab from the video.

Three Republicans running for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in the upcoming election released a video following Chairwoman Beth Dawson’s State of the County address Monday night.

The five-and-a-half-minute video, released on YouTube under an account titled “Conservative Leadership Team,” features current commissioner Woody White and two members of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board, Patricia Kusek (the current chairwoman) and Jim Brumit (current vice-chair).

They started by mentioning the “deal” Dawson cut with county commissioner – and Democrat – Jonathan Barfield Jr. by voting him chair of the board in December 2014 instead of White. Dawson was then elected vice chair under Barfield, and in December was elected chair with the support of the board’s Democrats.

The three candidates, who say they are staunch fiscal conservatives, pointed out that Dawson voted in favor of the county’s 2015 – 2016 budget, which included a two-cent property tax increase. That budget also included funds for child care subsidies, which in the video Brumit called “New Hanover County’s first-ever welfare program.”

“Welfare is a function of the federal and state government,” Brumit said. “Our county does not need to add to the welfare roles.”

Brumit also noted that Dawson voted against a travel policy for board members, which would have set a limit for the amount of money commissioners were given to attend conferences and other meetings on behalf of the county.

“Do you see why we’re calling this the Republican response to the State of the County?” Kusek said in the video. “The voters of New Hanover County elected three Republicans to serve as their commissioners, and that implied a fiscal promise to the voters. When one of them breaks that promise and goes against these conservative principles, we must stand up and speak out.”

Brumit said that by raising taxes and increasing welfare, he feels Dawson and Democrats Barfield and Rob Zapple are leading the county in the wrong direction and wants to “bring back fiscal sane-ness to New Hanover County.”

White, who served as chairman of the board for two years before Barfield, also with Dawson as his vice chair, said he believed the video response was appropriate in order to point out the differences between the Conservative Leadership Group and Dawson, who is also up for reelection this year.

“It’s not uncommon for a rebuttal speech to be made by members of the party not in power at any level of government,” White said. When reminded that the Republicans are technically the majority party on the board of commissioners, White said, “Yes, technicalities do matter. But [Dawson] is obviously a Democrat at heart, and she knows it.”

New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Beth Dawson during Monday's State of the County address. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Beth Dawson during Monday’s State of the County address. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

When reached Tuesday afternoon, Dawson said she had not yet seen the video and did not plan to, but had been told by others what was mentioned in it.

“That was not a response to the State of the County address,” Dawson said. “That was a political attack ad. It’s really not a rebuttal.”

Dawson defended her status as a Republican, saying she has supported GOP candidates locally and at other levels for many years as well as served in leadership positions with the local Republican women’s group. She also explained her votes over the past year, saying she makes decisions based on her own findings rather than voting along party lines.

“I don’t vote with anyone. I do my homework,” Dawson said. “I make a decision to vote for or against an issue based on my research.”

She said she voted to approve the tax increase because she believed the money was going to a cause that would benefit county citizens.

“I did not vote to extend welfare,” Dawson said, saying the funds went to an existing program that would help people get back to work by allowing their children to be cared for during working hours. “I looked at the return on investment for that money, and I think it’s a good return on investment.”

As far as the travel policy goes, Dawson said there is already an existing travel policy for county employees that commissioners have to abide by. She also noted that she voted against the budget in 2014, which White supported, because it had money earmarked for a state park.

“To me, that is not a good investment of county taxpayers money,” said Dawson, noting that those parks already receive funding from the state government.

Both Dawson and White agree that most issues that come before county commissioners regarding zoning, law enforcement, education and the like are non-partisan issues.

“It’s important to work together on these issues,” White said. “But it’s not acceptable to abandon those core principles that you campaigned on.”

“Disagreements with fellow members of the board, while uncomfortable at times, are necessary,” White continued, saying the public discord between commissioners would not affect the current board’s day-to-day decisions. “Tough choices have to be made.”

Watkins, who is not up for re-election and did not participate in the making of the video, said he understands the principle of standing with your party but said he also does not see it affecting the board’s work as a whole.

“I don’t hold grudges,” Watkins said. “Every day is a new day, every vote is a new vote.”

Dawson concurred, saying that under her leadership, she will ensure that discussions among board members that affect county residents will remain civil.

“I have worked hard over the last several years to restore professionalism and protocol to this board, and I will continue to do so,” Dawson said. “Citizens deserve that.”

Still, Dawson said she doesn’t appreciate what she calls the “misinformation out there in political ads” that could be the sign of a contentious election season leading up to the March 15 primary election.

“This isn’t Washington,” Dawson said, saying she would encourage all voters to look at both sides of the pictures and make decisions based on their own research. “Maybe some of those people in that ad would rather be in Washington, but this isn’t Washington.”

White, on his part, said the public could expect more videos and other things from the Conservative Leadership Group he has formed with Kusek and Brumit.

A total of seven Republicans are running for three open seats on the county board. A full list of candidates can be found here. The deadline to register to vote for the primary election is February 19.