Photo of Don Yelton by Jake Frankel.
This post follows up on issues first highlighted in the May 18 article, “Tensions Erupting Among Different Factions of Buncombe GOP.”
Divisions within the Buncombe County Republican party continued to play out this week, as its executive committee tabled a controversial “security amendment” and moved to strip Don Yelton of his position as precinct chair.
The May 21 meeting of the executive committee also included a strong show of support for party chair Henry Mitchell, who has been drawing fire in recent weeks from a relatively small but vocal group of longtime leaders that include Yelton, as well as past chairmen Chad Nesbitt and Robert Malt.
However, any criticisms of Mitchell at the most recent meeting were dwarfed by praise, according to multiple sources. Several candidates for Buncombe County office made strong declarations of support, including District 2 commission candidate Mike Fryar and District 3 commission candidate David King. And later this week, 10th District Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry applauded Mitchell and his organization in a letter, writing: “I am truly impressed by the initiatives you and your team have undertaken: a highly organized precinct-level operation, postcards mailed to newly registered Republicans, and a door to door canvass that successfully spread the word about redistricting throughout the county.”
He added that Mitchell’s fundraising has been impressive, and declared: “You definitely have a level of organization and creativity that should be emulated by other counties.”
Meanwhile, a proposed “security amendment” that aimed to make executive committee meetings more “safe and secure” did draw the ire of several attendees at the meeting, including Yelton and Nesbitt, who have both cast the measure as overreaching and potentially off-putting to new folks interested in getting involved.
In a press release, Nesbitt declared that the measure “had more to do with vanity and power interests than people.” And on May 21, the committee moved to delay any action, with Communications Director Nathan West noting that he thinks the critics had a point.
“[Nesbitt] felt like the amendment would be divisive and push people away, and there’s potential for that, and that’s why it was tabled,” he maintains. “But we also want to have the ability, when we have to handle business, to be able to go in to a closed session, where we know that the people in the room aren’t going to be videotaping and handing out things and making comments that really shouldn’t be out in the limelight.”
Later, during a closed session, the committee, which is made up of party officers, precinct chairs, and elected officials, took the first steps necessary to kick Yelton out of the group. A longtime local political figure and talk show host who served as the party’s first vice chair under Nesbitt, Yelton was previously active in the Democratic party before a falling out in 2004 resulted in a change of affiliation.
During the May 21 meeting, according to several sources, Buncombe County Republican leadership played a recording of Yelton encouraging people to sign a petition that would get unaffiliated Buncombe County commission candidate Kevin King on the ballot in District 3.
That, says West, who Mitchell deferred to for comment on the matter, amounted to a violation of state “party disloyalty” rules, which bar all office members from “attempting to influence or influencing the outcome of any election against a Republican candidate.” The county bylaws similarly define party disloyalty as “supporting a candidate of another Party, or independent candidate, running in opposition to a nominee of the Republican Party in a general election,” notes West.
Yelton, who serves as chair of precinct 40.2 in North Buncombe, stormed out of the meeting before a formal letter outlining the charges could be given to him. Under county and state bylaws, the letter of accusation must signed by one-third of present committee members; 55 of 57 members present May 21 signed it, reports West.
A copy of the letter, which West later passed along to Xpress, also alleges negligence.
“Your failure and inability to perform the duties of your office due to your confrontational approach, your inability to curb your temper, your repeated disruption of meetings and your personal attacks and insults of other members- both during meetings and outside of meetings as well as other factors that render you unable to perform your duties,” it reads.
“Don Yelton, of course, as everybody knows, has always been a constant agitator,” adds West. “If he put half as much effort in to recruiting Republicans to get out and vote as he does putting himself in the spotlight, he would be a phenomenal precinct chair.”
However, Yelton brushes off the charges, countering that the move is a sign of the current leadership’s ineptitude.
“This is the biggest joke and the biggest laugh I’ve had since joining the Republican party,” he maintains. “They are acting just like Democrats right now. They’re trying to control the meetings. They’re trying to manipulate. Trying to play the same dirty game.”
Yelton will be given a formal opportunity under the party rules to defend himself against the charges at the executive committee’s June 25 meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Skyland Fire Department.
“Their solution is to get rid of people they don’t like,” he asserts, adding that he’s not planning on going anywhere. “I told the party, you’re going somewhere you don’t want to go.”
Meanwhile, West maintains that the initial move against Yelton has already had a positive impact.
“As hard as Monday night was, we’ve had a lot of support,” he says. “We’re picking up precinct chairs … People have literally called us and said, ‘I want to do something now that he is out of there.’”