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Governor's order won't stop GOP from meeting

The Henderson County Republican Party plans to resume its monthly breakfast meeting next Saturday even as a state executive order bars gatherings of more than 10 people.


"As we enter this election cycle, all Republican candidates (and) elected officials are encouraged to attend this meeting," party activist Bruce Hatfield said in announcing the breakfast meeting, at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, July 18, at the Dixie Diner in Laurel Park. "Bring your family, friends, and neighbors as we reconnect. This will be a very busy election cycle. Candidates and elected officials who are facing re-election need volunteers. Join us, and sign up to work for your Republican candidates for elected office." Guest speaker is state Rep. Jake Johnson.

Although restaurants are allowed to open with reduced capacity, larger meetings are still barred under the Phase 2 order.

"In Phase 2, gatherings of more than 10 people in a single indoor space remains prohibited," the governor's office says in a Q&A on line. "In outdoor spaces, gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited. These mass gathering limits include parades, fairs, festivals, auditoriums, stadiums, arenas, conference rooms and meeting halls."

Hatfield said in an interview he thought the gathering would be fine.

"She's got spacing pretty good like we always need," he said. "She said 'Come on down.'"

Asked whether a gathering of more than 10 people at the meeting would constitute a violation of the governor's order, he said, "I couldn't answer that question. I know we've had other meetings (at Republican headquarters). She's got tables spread out. All I know is I had people responding that are glad we're getting back together."

Asked whether he would encourage face masks, he said, "You can't eat with a face mask on." He said he expected that when they're not eating, some of the people attending would wear a face mask.

Dixie Diner owner Vickie Olek said she would try to enforce the rules "if that's what we need to do."

"He didn't tell me how many he was having," she said. "He just asked if they could come back here and usually it hasn't been too many lately. I'll have to discuss it with Bruce." 

Hatfield organizes the monthly Republican breakfast and a Republican Men's Club breakfasts, both at the Dixie Diner. The gatherings haven't met "since the pandemic but before that they haven't had very many at all," Olek said. "That's why I wasn't worried about it because he hadn't had very many."

Johnson said he supports local enforcement of the governor's order.

"I think some of the local officials have stepped up and kind of taken a little bit of discretion of their own on this," he said. "They may have a better take on how they're handling things on the local level. I'd say they have the power with their office to determine whether or not they're going to take action on it. I'll put it that way."

Johnson pointed out that the meeting is at a restaurant, which under Phase 2 is open for inside dining at 50 percent capacity.

"In restaurants, they can have it, they just have to meet certain requirements within the restaurant," he said. "At one point I know it did specify that if you could space it out enough then it would be OK. I think some of these district attorneys and sheriffs have kind of weighed in on whether they'd be taking action against it or not. I'm kind of leaving it up to them at this point on how they want to interpret it and how they want to move forward.

"I've been pushing for this local and regional stuff for a while now," he said. "I just can't wrap my head around us being held to the same standard as a downtown Raleigh or a downtown Charlotte when the vast majority of our  cases, our serious cases, have been confined to the congregate living and things like that. The majority of emails coming to me are (saying), 'We need to get back to work and get things back to normal.'" He said while he supports protecting vulnerable populations, "the rest of us have got to get back to work at some point."