Jun 11, 2023 - News

N.C. Republicans censure U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis for his bipartisan deals

Photo: Anna Rose Layden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a vote held behind closed doors at the North Carolina Republican Party's annual convention Saturday, more than 1,000 voting delegates voted to censure U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: Tillis' rising reputation as a "bipartisan dealmaker" who has worked across the aisle in negotiating legislation on gay rights, guns and immigration, apparently doesn't sit well with the party he helped put in power here several years ago.

  • "We need people who are unwavering in their support for conservative ideals," GOP delegate Jim Forster told the AP of the senator who once helped craft conservative ideals here. "His recent actions don't reflect the party's shift to the right — in fact, they're moving in the exact wrong direction."

Yes, but: The censure holds no real consequences from Tillis, as it only sends a message of strong dissatisfaction.

  • Numerous state Republican lawmakers, including state Sen. Bobby Hanig and Sen. Jim Burgin, both among the most conservative state Senate Republicans, denounced the decision to censure Tillis.

Be smart: Delegates are often the most extreme members of their respective party, as they're among the most involved, enthusiastic and loudest voices at the local level.

  • More than 50 county GOP parties also voted to censure Tillis in the lead-up to the statewide convention, Business North Carolina reported.
  • "There's two elements at play here: there's the hardcore conservatives in our party and the anti-establishment kind of populists, and when they unite together, that's the majority of activists in our party," former Wake County GOP chair Charles Hellwig told Axios.

What they're saying: "[Tillis] will never apologize for his work passing the largest tax cut in history, introducing legislation to secure the border and end sanctuary cities, delivering desperately needed funding to strengthen school safety and protecting the rights of churches to worship freely based on their belief in traditional marriage," Tillis spokesperson Daniel Keylin told the AP.

Zoom out: Former President Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis all spoke at the convention over the weekend, and Trump pledged to endorse Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson in his bid for governor.

  • The event was one of Trump's first public appearances since his federal indictment, and the first time he and his former vice president have shared a venue since Pence launched his own presidential campaign, the AP reports.

Flashback: Just a decade ago, Tillis was the close-cropped head of the Republican Party in the state.

  • He led a GOP revolution here in the 2010 election, as he famously "wore out a set of tires driving the state recruiting candidates." as the Observer reported at the time.
  • In that monumental election, Republicans went from 10 seats down in the state Senate to 10 seats up, and from 17 down in the House to 15 up — taking power of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since 1870.
  • As the House speaker at the time, Tillis was key in the effort to ban same-sex marriages in the state, which North Carolinians approved in 2012.
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