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New conservative group to recruit and boost Cumberland candidates

Independent Conservative Alliance PAC endorses Patel, Tyson, Pappas for Cumberland commission


Several Fayetteville-area Republicans have created a new political action committee to recruit and promote conservative candidates they consider to be of high quality after Republican former mayoral candidate Franco Webb was caught lying in 2022 about his military service and now has pending felony fraud charges.

Their PAC, the Independent Conservative Alliance Political Action Committee, has endorsed three of the eight Republicans on Cumberland County primary ballots this year. Those are Pavan Patel, Henry Tyson and Peter Pappas.

They are running for the three seats that serve the county commission’s Dist. 2. The three candidates that win the most votes on March 5 will advance to the general election in November against three Democrats.

The PAC also plans to recruit candidates for this year’s Cumberland County Board of Education elections and the 2025 Fayetteville City Council elections.

But the new PAC has angered the head of the Cumberland County Republican Party. Chairwoman Nina Morton said one of the PAC’s members until recently was tasked with recruiting GOP candidates for last year’s municipal races and this year’s other local elections, and he wasn’t supposed to pick favorites.

Republicans should support all Republicans, Morton said on Friday, unless there are extreme circumstances involving a candidate who would be detrimental to the party.

What does ‘conservative’ mean to the PAC?

A PAC is a private organization that raises money to support its members’ political positions and causes. A PAC can make donations to candidates, and it can spend money on advertising and other efforts in support of its mission.

The Independent Conservative Alliance’s founders include former state House member John Szoka (R-Dist. 45), former Fayetteville City Councilman Bobby Hurst, former state Senator Wesley Meredith (R-Dist. 19) and former county Republican Party Chairwoman Jackie Taylor.

(Hurst is an employee of Single Source Real Estate Services, which is owned by CityView Publisher Tony Chavonne.)

The PAC’s founders are all conservative, Szoka said on Friday.

“Our appeal is to those who think likewise, not based on any party, but those who have conservative viewpoints,” he said. “And we're reaching out to primarily Republicans, and also independents, and any Democrats who want to support us as well, if they think like we do.”

Conservative values, Szoka said, include the desire for limited government and lower taxes.

“In terms of social issues, we’re definitely not ‘woke,’” he said. “We’re — I don’t want to say ‘anti-woke’ —  but believe that everybody’s the same. Just like the Constitution says.”

“… That everybody has rights imbued to them by our Creator: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Szoka said, referencing the Declaration of Independence.

No matter a person’s ethnicity or other background, Szoka said, “if you believe in the Constitution as the founding document of this country, and you believe in things like that, well, then you’re a conservative.”

GOP leader is angry at the PAC

Morton, the GOP chairwoman, is angry with Hurst and the rest of the new PAC. She said that when Hurst and the others were starting the PAC, Hurst was also in charge of candidate recruiting for the party.

In that role, it was wrong for Hurst to pick favorites during the primary, Morton said.

“That was underhanded and deceptive, and I don’t forgive — I’m not going to forget about this,” she said. “They used us — had access to the candidates, and were all the time working on this PAC. … They had their own agenda, and that’s wrong.”

Morton issued a statement to local Republicans on Feb. 17 that she dissolved the party’s candidate recruiting committee after learning of the PAC and its efforts.

“The Cumberland County GOP does not endorse candidates before the primary election,” she said.

Hurst said on Friday that while he was previously in charge of recruiting on behalf of the county Republican Party, the party had no recruiting committee. He, Szoka, Meredith and Taylor set up their own group separately, and initially called it Cumberland Candidate Initiative, he said.

Early this month after this conflict with Morton escalated, Hurst said, the group changed its name to the Independent Conservative Alliance and decided to form it as a political action committee to raise money and support its preferred candidates. Hurst said he also resigned on Feb. 5 from his role in candidate recruitment for the county Republican Party.

Candidates had to show knowledge, organizational strength

Voters should soon see advertising from the PAC to promote its endorsed candidates, Szoka and Hurst said.

“We started in the September time frame, prior to filing in December” when candidates signed up to seek office, Hurst said. “We put out some e-blasts, just trying to get the message out about our committee.”

Hurst said he interviewed seven potential candidates and outlined the challenges and costs of running. None were prepared to run in 2024, he said, but two may seek seats on the county board of commissioners in 2028.

In December, eight other Republicans filed for the three seats in Dist. 2 of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. The Independent Conservative Alliance interviewed and vetted seven of them, Hurst and Szoka said. The PAC did not talk with candidate Venus de la Cruz because at the time she had announced she would not actively campaign; she told CityView on Thursday she has since changed her mind.

The vetting process included background checks. In the interviews, the candidates were asked about their plans for operating their campaigns, how much they would invest into the effort, and why they wanted to be a county commissioner, Szoka and Hurst said.

“Some people knew why they wanted to,” Szoka said, and they listed the top four or five issues they wanted to address and articulated how they hoped to make Cumberland County better, he said.

Others, Szoka said, recited their personal histories but never answered why they wanted to serve in the office.

The Conservative Alliance picked Pavan Patel, Henry Tyson and Peter Pappas in the GOP primary, it said in an announcement, because each demonstrated knowledge about issues facing Cumberland County.

The Conservative Alliance listed other reasons for its picks, saying it felt the candidates’ campaigns are organized, financially sound, and have good bases of support, and the candidates have a strong work ethic and thoroughly answered the PAC’s interview questions.

Besides de la Cruz, the other GOP candidates are Jeremy Stanley, Ron Ross, Jonathan C. Strange and V. Lee Spruill. Spruill eventually suspended his campaign after his interview with the PAC.

What do the rejected candidates say?

Two of the GOP candidates that the Independent Conservative Alliance PAC rejected are angry, they said on Monday.

Ross doesn’t believe Hurst’s assertion that his group was always separate from the Cumberland County Republican Party.

“That group started out under the wing of the Republican Party — there’s no question there,” Ross said, so he thinks it is wrong for the group to make endorsements and otherwise support particular GOP candidates before the primary is over.

Stanley, too, said he thought at first the committee was part of the county GOP. He described it as doing “underhanded stuff.”

“It is a buddy-buddy, good old boy, good ol’ name situation that they’re going off of,” Stanley said. “The group is going to create animosity within the Republican Party more so than what it already has.”

Strange, who is a former chairman of the Cumberland County Republican Party, said he had no issues with the PAC and its efforts. He thinks his background as a former chairman provides him with some perspective on the situation.

“I don’t believe that it’s ever been identified as part of the Republican Party proper,” Strange said. While he sees that there was confusion among people in the party, “I never felt misled.”

Hurst was in charge of recruiting people on behalf of the party, and as an individual was not allowed under party rules to endorse anyone, Strange said.

However, Hurst is allowed at the same time to be active in a separate group that endorses individuals in the primary, he said.

“I don’t think that inherently creates a conflict, it just requires transparency” about his involvement, Strange said. “And at least in my regard, … I never felt like anybody was ‘hiding the ball’ behind anything.”

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

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election 2024, cumberland, county commissioners, gop, republicans party