Buncombe County Republican Party Chair Tim Johnson, who was recently elected vice chair of the state party, stepped down from his local leadership post July 31, with county Vice Chair Robert Malt taking over as local chair.
Johnson plans to move to Durham with his family. According to the announcement, the primary reason for the step is a professional opportunity for his wife, though it will also put him closer to the state party headquarters.
"Throughout my campaign for state vice chairman, and through my time as county chairman, my wife has supported me through good times and bad. She has stood by me and given me the strength I needed," Johnson declared in a July 26 announcement on the party's Web site. "I never intended to leave Buncombe County and I plan to maintain strong ties here, but it's my turn now to support my wife and her goals."
Johnson announced the decision July 25 at the annual Chairman's Picnic. He expressed confidence in Malt, who's served as the local party's first vice chair since March, calling him "a strategic thinker who knows what it takes to win."
Malt, meanwhile, says his main goal is improving party organization. "We have to be united: There's been a lot of infighting," he told Xpress. "We haven't had our party organized enough at the precinct level. A lot of the time, candidates have basically been left on their own. That's going to stop."
The GOP didn't fare well in the last elections — locally, statewide or nationally. And since then, the number of registered Republicans in Buncombe County has slipped from 49,209 to 47,854.
"There will be a time for changing those numbers, but right now we just don't have enough people," said Malt. "We're getting people coming in, wanting to be precinct judges, wanting to help. We have a lot of jobs to fill."
Malt is the fourth local party chair in as many years. Johnson's two predecessors either resigned or refused to seek re-election due to battles within the party.
Malt praised Johnson as "a great communicator, very good with people. I'm not as good a public speaker, but not everything can be won by a Hail Mary pass: You need your blocking and tackling too. That's what we're focusing on. I lead by example; I wouldn't ask anyone to do anything I wouldn't do."
Johnson's rise to prominence — he is the first African-American to hold a leadership position in the state GOP — has been marred by a sometimes bitter dispute, with critics questioning his academic credentials and saying he hadn't been forthcoming about a 1996 domestic-violence conviction in Ohio.
Nonetheless, Johnson won the vice chair race handily at the party's June convention, and some local activists say he's brought fresh energy and better organization to the party.
In his new post, Johnson has promised to work to end factionalism, attract new demographic groups and make better use of technology.
— David Forbes