GREENSBORO, North Carolina (AP) — Republican delegates from North Carolina voted Saturday at their annual convention to censure Thom Tillis, the state’s top U.S. senator, for backing policies they say violate key principles of the GOP platform.
As Senator Tillis has gained influence in Congress for his willingness to work across the aisle, his record on LGBTQ+ rights, immigration and gun violence has raised concerns among some Republicans in the US. state that the senator has strayed from conservative values.
Several delegates in Greensboro criticized Tillis, who has held his Senate seat since 2015, for his work last year on the Respecting Marriage Act, which enshrined protections for same-sex and interracial marriages in federal law.
State and national GOP platforms oppose same-sex marriage. But Tillis, who had opposed it earlier in his political career, was among the early supporters of the law who pressured his GOP colleagues in Congress to vote for it.
Others criticized him for challenging former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and for backing a measure that provided funding for Red Flag laws, which allow state courts to authorize the temporary removal of firearms from people who they believe may pose a danger to themselves or others.
The North Carolina senator initially opposed Trump’s plan to use military construction dollars to build a wall along the country’s southern border, but eventually changed his position.
Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin defended the senator’s voting record, writing in an email to The Associated Press that it “delivers on promises and delivers results.”
“He will never apologize for his work in passing the biggest tax cut in history, introducing legislation to secure the border and ending sanctuary cities, providing desperately needed funding to bolster the security of schools and protecting the rights of churches to practice freely based on their belief in traditional marriage,” Keylin said.
While Saturday’s vote, which took place behind closed doors, cannot remove Tillis from office, supporters said they hoped it would send a strong message of discontent. A two-thirds majority of the state party’s 1,801 voting delegates was needed for the resolution to pass, party spokesman Jeff Moore said.
“We need people who steadfastly support Conservative ideals,” said Jim Forster, an 81-year-old delegate from Guilford. “His recent actions do not reflect the party’s shift to the right – in fact, they are going in exactly the wrong direction.”
Several state lawmakers, including Currituck County Sen. Bobby Hanig, criticized the decision, saying it was a bad idea to create more divisions within the party ahead of an election year where party unity will be paramount. .
“I believe a mob mentality does us no good,” Hanig said. “Senator Tillis does a lot for North Carolina, he does a lot for coastal communities, so why would I want to drive him crazy?”
State Sen. Jim Burgin of Harnett County said the vote to censure Tillis sets a dangerous precedent and does not allow enough flexibility for individual interpretation of party values.
Burgin wondered if his own vote last month for North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban would also put him at risk of being censured because he’s not compliant with the platform. Republican, which states that life begins at conception.
“I don’t think we need to attack our own,” he said. “”You don’t shoot your own elephants.”
Hannah Schoenbaum is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.