The Berkeley County Republican Party has a new leader whose goal is to heal rifts exposed in this month's primary and runoff elections.

Josh Whitley, a Daniel Island lawyer, was elected at an executive committee meeting Thursday, five days after Terry Hardesty stepped down as chairman.

"I believe we should take the election of a new chair as an opportunity to self-examine and perhaps refocus," Whitley said.

In recent weeks, the party's Facebook page has become a battleground of name calling and character assassination as party members have declared support for local candidates.

As a first step toward healing, Whitley was nominated for the post by County Councilman Tim Callanan and seconded by newly elected Councilman Tommy Newell, who have often been on opposite sides in recent weeks.

The infighting led, in part, to Hardesty's resignation.

"The elections were polarizing people," Hardesty said. "We obviously have some division within the party and we need to heal that up. It was better for me to step aside and let somebody else lead."

Whitley, 31, and a Berkeley County native, has established himself as a conservative community watchdog.

He created Berkeley Citizens for Sustainable Education to oppose the 2012 Yes 4 Schools referendum. In 2013, Whitley, Hardesty and former school board member Scott Marino, Whitley's brother-in-law, took concerns about the campaign to state Attorney General Alan Wilson, which led to the ongoing State Law Enforcement Division investigation and the indictment on ethics charges of school district Communications Director Amy Kovach.

Whitley also sued the school district in a First Amendment case last year when Hardesty was not allowed to address the school board about the SLED investigation. The district settled the suit for $65,000.

Whitley said he will focus on party unity, increasing membership and developing the group into a statewide leader on platform development.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.