The Herald Bulletin

March 8, 2014

Ken de la Bastide: Control of GOP at stake in public primary battle

By Ken de la Bastide
The Herald Bulletin

---- — The battle lines were clearly drawn between Russ Willis, chairman of the Madison County Republican Party, and Mike Gaskill.

At the Lincoln Club Dinner, Willis took aim directly at former county councilman Mike Gaskill. At stake is the control of the local party.

The two men have been trading jabs for the past few months and recently it has escalated to the point where every incumbent officeholder in the courthouse except one is being challenged for the party’s nomination in the primary election.

Through the website “Madison County Alert,” Gaskill has reportedly been taking shots at Willis and Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith on a regular basis.

As a result of the inner party squabble a new organization was created that is loosely affiliated with the Madison County Tea Party organization. The Reagan Club had its first meeting last week.

During his remarks — which took some Republicans by surprise because it aired the party’s dispute in public — Willis said it has been a tumultuous time for the party.

He referenced a Madison County Alert post about his chairmanship saying it was filled with outright lies, half-truths and falsehoods.

Willis said candidates running against the incumbents are not real Republicans or Tea Partiers.

“They are Gaskill party candidates,” Willis said. “As one mail piece in 2012 stated, these people give the Tea Party a bad name.

“The Gaskill Party and its candidates are not good for Madison County,” he added.

With the already public feud between Willis and Gaskill heating up, Republicans can expect to see lots of twists and turns between now and the May 6 primary election.

The biggest potential loser in the fight is Kelly Gaskill, who is being challenged by Micah Mitchell for the Madison County Treasurer’s nomination.

If the traditional GOP backs Mitchell and other candidates running against Gaskill supporters David McCartney and Rick Gardner, it could mark the end of a challenge to Willis’s control of the party.

The deciding factor in the battle is going to come down to numbers and money. Willis has the party’s precinct organization to assist in electing incumbent officeholders and Mitchell and old line party members opposed to the agenda of Gaskill and his supporters.

Don’t forget the Republican Party has the Friends of Madison County Political Action Committee that in 2012 spent almost $34,000 on GOP candidates. Will the PAC provide money to the incumbents, Mitchell, and other non-Tea Party candidates in the primary election?

How much can the newly formed Reagan Club raise to counter the party’s fundraising efforts and how effective will be at a get-out-the-vote effort?

Gaskill didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.

There should be little doubt that Ludy Watkins, chairman of the Madison County Democrat Party, is wearing a grin as the two factions in the GOP wrestle for control of the party.

Senior Reporter Ken de la Bastide’s column publishes Sundays. Contact him at Ken.DeLaBastide@heraldbulletin.com or (765) 640-4863.