Ministers active in the weekly "Moral Monday" protests at the Legislature have called off talks with Republican legislators, saying one lawmaker broke the ground rules when he disclosed the discussions.
The Charlotte Observer reported that Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius quietly started the talks to try to find common ground. A group of 10 lawmakers and about a dozen ministers met twice.
Tarte talked about the behind-the-scenes dialogue in response to a question from the Observer about his reaction to the weekly protests. Eight ministers then signed a statement saying they're ending the talks because one ground rules was that they would remain private.
"Our dialogue has now been used as an opportunity to make headlines and what appears to be a vain attempt to divide our movement," the statement said. "As a result of what we can only conclude was a sophomoric effort to divide us, and the bad faith this represents, we have decided to discontinue the discussions."
Tarte said Friday that the ministers' decision is unfortunate. "But that's their choice if they want to discontinue to meet," he said. "I think that'd be sad."
The 10th weekly protest against the policies of the Republican-led General Assembly is scheduled for Monday. Nearly 675 people have been arrested so far.
Tarte said he wanted to see the protesters for himself because others were calling them outsiders. It bothered him, he said, that protesters said conservatives aren't listening.
At one rally, he heard the Rev. Rodney Sadler, a seminary professor and associate minister at Charlotte's Mount Carmel Baptist Church. Tarte said they arranged to meet in Huntersville.
The result was what Tarte called the "Social Justice Conversation Group," with rank-and-file legislators, not the leadership, and several ministers. They met in a legislative conference room just before the Monday protests were to start.
One of the ministers also mentioned the talks at his Sunday service, the newspaper reported.
Tarte said he's still willing to talk. "I'll keep an open invitation for anybody who wants to sit down and have a conversation," he said. "Never close the door."