March 20, 2011
"We truly need new people in leadership in the Cumberland County GOP," said Heather
Harrison prior to the party convention March 19 at Terry Sanford High School in
She got her wish. The 43-year-old grandmother, who describes herself as "just a
housewife", was elected to the top post of the county party on Saturday, ousting
Suzanne Rucker, who had served as chairperson for the past two years.
The final tally -- 82-80 -- could be mistaken for a NCAA basketball nail-biter. But this was politics -- and politics is serious business in Cumberland County.
Heather is philosophical about the close vote, but a win, she concludes, is a win. "This was no mandate, I know. I did have very solid support from Tea Partiers. On the other side, there were a lot of people who were extremely upset that I won. I am not aware of the GOP establishment supporting me in any way."
The GOP landscape in Cumberland seems to sit astride a political fault line, where
establishment politicians and Tea Partyers grind away at each other like opposing
techtonic plates. The close vote for party chair is indicative of the deep philosophical divide that splits the Republican membership.
While she speaks with humility of her decision to throw her hat into the ring, Harrison is no political novice. A solid conservative Christian Constituionalist, she is serving as president of the "We the People of the Sandhills" group.
"I was actually surprised that I got in the race, because this really puts me out of my comfort zone," she said on Sunday. "I was nervous going into the election, and just extremely surprised at the results.
"I am surrounded by some awesome people -- some very well-grounded people with wonderful ideas, and this is extremely reassuring. Ralph Reagan, outgoing vice chair, has been very helpful"
Why did she do it? Easy answer: "I have always been a political junkie, and, because of Obama, I was motivated to get involved. I saw freedoms I thought I had eroding completely away. and was scared to death what my children and my grandbaby will face as they grow up."
She believes honest political involvement -- activism, if you will -- is the antidote for what ails America -- and Cumberland County.
"My hope, first and foremost, is to get in contact with each and every Republican in the area and help them get informed about what's going on locally. Whether they're here for two years or their entire life, whatever the city and the county do affects you. So you need to pay attention to what the party leaders are doing."
Lest we forget, Cumberland County is Army to the core. Fort Bragg, located just west of Fayetteville, is one of the largest military complexes in the world -- home of the Army's only Airborne Corps, the 82d Airborne Division, the elite Special Forces and the Army's largest Support Command.
These unusual demographics complicate political cohesiveness. Deployments, in particular, keep the population in a state of perpetual motion, and constant turnover. It's tough in these circumstances to shape a political coalition that
"I believe it's because of the transient nature of Cumberland County that a lot of
regular folks don't get involved in politics. We have so many active duty citizens, and people working full-time so it's tough for them to get involved."
It's all part and parcel of the life of a U.S. Army wife, and Heather has no problem with it. Her husband Brian, 47, is career Army -- a Command Sergeant with over 24 years in uniform. An artilleryman, Brian has had four overseas combat deployments -- the most recent to Afghanistan in 2009.
Heather states the obvious: "I'm an Army brat and an Army wife. And I love my man."
On the personal side, she has this to say about one of her pet peeves: "I have heartburn with people who are politicians who claim Christ but do not behave in a manner that demonstrates this."
As to her own faith, and how it will guide her over the coming year, Heather says simply: "I will conduct myself with integrity and dignity and treat people with respect."
The new chairperson of the Cumberland County Republic Party will waste no time getting down to business. The first board meeting is slated for Saturday, March 26. "We'll be setting our agenda then," she says.