Horry County GOP selects new party leadership, setting stage for coming elections

·9 min read

The Horry County Republican Party on Saturday selected a slate of new leaders who will guide the local party through the first half of Joe Biden’s presidency and the 2022 elections.

The new leadership will — some hope — steer the influential local party out of a tumultuous period that’s been marked by back-and-forth bickering, contentious meetings and confrontations between leaders. The new leaders will also be tasked with ushering the party through a consequential midterm election, one in which the county’s congressional representative, Tom Rice (SC-7th), the chairman of the county council and the chairman of the school district will be up for re-election.

Gathered in a large conference room at the Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach, 369 delegates cast votes for local party chair, vice-chair, state executive committee person — who represents the party in Columbia — and a slate of delegates to the state GOP’s convention. The two current leaders, co-chairs Dreama Purdue and Ed Carey, had said they were not running for leadership positions this time around, meaning party members selected almost-all new leaders Saturday.

Roger Slagle, a businessman who mostly worked in Asia but who recently returned home to the Grand Strand, was named the party’s new county chair. Tracy “Beanz” Diaz, a longtime Republican operative who got her start in politics working for former Texas Rep. Ron Paul and in the Tea Party movement of the 2010s, was named the new state executive committee person.

To win, a candidate needed to clear a 185-vote margin on the first round of voting to achieve a majority. Slagle won 190 votes, and Diaz received 188. A vote for party vice chair was inconclusive late Saturday afternoon. Forty-eight others were selected to travel to Columbia to participate in the South Carolina GOP convention next month.

Though one race was still contested Saturday afternoon, the choice of Slagle and Diaz marks a clear victory for the Horry County GOP’s right wing. Both candidates were supported by local conservative activists and earned endorsements from people in former President Donald Trump’s orbit, including former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn and Lin Wood, one-time Trump attorney who has been campaigning to replace current state party chairman Drew McKissick.

“My priorities will be building the party,” Slagle said shortly after his victory was announced. “My goal is to have 1,000 people here in two years, whether I run or not. I want to see this party grow.”

To do that, he said, he’ll focus on engaging with younger voters and others who haven’t previously engaged with the party, and try to bring them into the fold.

Diaz, too, said she’d like to see the party expand with new members, but while also learning from the people who ran the party before her. Both she and Slagle said they’d work to bring peace and unity to often-contentious party, making room for all stripes of Republican along the way.

“I’m not an extremist,” Diaz said. “I really do feel like there’s a lot to be learned from the people who have been here for a very long time, so I have literally zero intention to do anything but learning from those folks.”

But Slagle and Diaz both said they hope to reform the party in key ways. Slagle said he’d look to more thoroughly vet candidates running for office, and Diaz said she’d work to bring new levels of transparency to the party.

“I’d like to fix the party here and get it on the straight and narrow and implement some transparency,” she said.

Seeking a return to traditional values

Saturday’s convention marked an effort by the Horry County GOP to leave past conflicts and infighting behind, and reestablish the party as committed to the U.S. Constitution and traditional conservative values, like small government, individual freedom and “free market solutions.”

About 260,000 registered voters live in Horry County, and a majority vote Republican. It’s one of South Carolina’s GOP strongholds, but one that’s also been mired in dysfunction in recent years, particularly, some have said, since former chairman Robert Rabon died from COVID-19 last year. Though he hadn’t led the party for several years, he continued to serve as a moral and practical guiding force, several party members have said.

Several people running for leadership positions on Saturday said they hope to “get beyond” that.

“There are some problems with the Republican party. Yes, RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) do exist,” said Reese Boyd III, a local attorney who ran for chair. “(But) let’s not destroy ourselves in the process of fixing this party and moving forward.”

As a sign of how large a role the Horry County GOP could play in coming months and years, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster made an appearance to rally the delegates, saying that Republicans nationwide were embroiled in “a war” against Democrats and other influential forces that seek to steer the country in a different direction than former President Donald Trump.

“You’ve heard the alarm, and that’s why you’re here,” McMaster told the crowd, saying that Republicans need to focus on banning abortion, building a wall at the Southern border and strengthening the Second Amendment. “We’ve got to fight.”

Those remarks earned McMaster several standing ovations by convention members, who cheered when he and others proclaimed that the party needed to return to its conservative roots.

The Horry County GOP has been embroiled in controversy in recent years and months, causing bouts of infighting that frequently spilled out into public view, with party members and observers airing conflicts in Facebook comments, blog posts and recorded speeches. Two years ago, a voting conflict led to state party officials intervening in the county reorganization, ultimately allowing two co-chairs — Purdue and Carey — to share leadership of the party.

Since then, disputes over spending of party funds by Purdue have drawn allegations of corruption and a lack of transparency by some party members, causing meetings to devolve into shouting matches. Some party activists, too, have said they wish to wrest control of the party away from so-called moderate Republicans and RINOS. Those efforts have sparked a battle between aggressive conservatives and others who fear that wing of the party will push out members who aren’t deemed conservative enough.

Need to vet candidates in dispute

One concern that’s arisen from that conflict, moderate party members have said, is a wish by more conservative members in the party to heavily vet candidates during primary elections, to ensure that people running for office are sufficiently committed to the party’s values.

Slagle, who conservative activists favored in the race for chair, said if elected he would “tirelessly vet candidates.”

More moderate members of the party question that move, though.

“What’s the motive behind that? Is that really to select the best nominee?” County Council member Cam Crawford, who describes himself as conservative but less extreme than others in the party, said last month, when that idea first began circulating publicly.

“Are the people who are involved in that process, are they biased?” Crawford asked. “I have questions about the motive; I also have questions about the process. If the party goes and chooses, are you then taking that ability away from the public?”

Diaz, Slagle and others, though, have argued that reforms — such as vetting candidates — are necessary to return the party to its conservative roots, an idea that energizes voters.

“I want to run this party in our county in a way that makes you proud to be a conservative again,” Diaz told a crowd of supporters earlier this week.

The bickering within the party was a common topic at the convention, with some candidates for leadership pledging to return the party to calmer, more unified days. And seeking to keep the convention free of the infighting that’s mired the party recently, convention leaders at several points urged disruptors in the crowd to settle down or they’d have police escort them out.

“We have not been terribly effective; we’ve been bogged down in a lot of infighting, a lot of factionalism,” Boyd said during a speech after his nomination for party chair. “We’ve got to quit acting like a circular firing squad. We’ve got to get beyond that.”

Candidates make their case to delegates

During speeches ahead of the voting, candidates for leadership offered different visions for the party.

“I want to wake people up in this county,” Slagle said during his speech. “I want to know why are we not doing anything about child trafficking, human trafficking in Horry County.

“I can rise above the petty infighting that’s taken place the last few years,” he added.

Bill Wiegand, another candidate for chair, said his mother helped found the Horry County Republican party in the 1950s, and that he wants to carry on her legacy.

“We’re in a battle of tyranny vs liberty,” he said. “I favor liberty myself. I want to put prayer back in our schools.”

Others pledged unity and service if elected.

“It’s my duty to implement your wishes,” said Jeremy Halpin, a candidate for vice chair. “You run this party, not the chair, not the vice chair.”

Mary Scofield, another candidate for vice chair, said the party needs to stop treating its members like enemies.

“Our enemies are not each other,” she said. “Our enemies sit in the White House, in Congress and in the Senate. We’re the silent majority, but look where that silence got us: A stolen election.”

Despite allegations and lawsuits to the contrary, no evidence has emerged to date that any fraud or interference took place in the 2020 presidential election.

Valiant Summers, who also ran for vice chair, put things more bluntly: “We need to use the energy we’ve been using against each other and start kicking some Democrat butt.”

Heading into next year’s midterms, some party leaders hope for a renewed unity that will strengthen Republicans’ position in South Carolina.

“This is the beginning of how we win big things,” South Carolina GOP Chairman McKissick said during a short speech Saturday. “Politics is spelled p-e-o-p-l-e. The more people you got, the better campaign you’re going to have, the more likely you’re going to win.”

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