On Saturday, the long and somewhat tedious process of picking local, state, and national Republican leaders began with "mass precinct meetings" held in Georgia's counties with over 80,000 residents. All counties will hold their conventions next month to determine who will be delegates to congressional district conventions held in April and the Georgia GOP Convention which will occur in Athens this May. State party leaders along with National Committee members will be selected at that time.
The convention process was once the determination of who held political power and was allowed to run for office. With the widespread use of primaries, many loyal party voters are now oblivious to the party election system and the rituals involved. In far too many cases, this has allowed political parties to remove their focus from recruiting and selecting candidates who will best represent the party's values in general elections and become inwardly focused on self-preservation of the members and their own positions of power.
It is a process that allows for the grass roots to select their own leaders. It has for some, unfortunately, a place to settle petty scores or to block newcomers out of an overall sense of paranoia or to cling to local leadership posts despite changing times and attitudes.
The Newton County Republican Party implemented exclusionary practices that appear to violate state party rules which govern how these mass precinct meetings must be held. Those who agreed to spend a Saturday morning dedicated to being part of this potentially four-month process arrived to find that the county party had created a point system based on prior activities within the party, ensuring no newcomers would be entitled to attend next month's county convention and likely the higher level conventions as delegates.
The move comes as many in the grass roots level continue to fend off organized efforts by Libertarians and supporters of perpetual candidate Ron Paul to take away control of much of the institutional framework that currently serves as a buffer for incumbents and the GOP status quo. By setting up rules that block any newcomer from participating in the process, the county party has likely not only violated rules, but has ensured that any efforts by party leaders to speak of outreach and growing a bigger tent for new supporters will be muted.
Another example of such came from Douglas County, where one precinct chairman blocked Michael McNeely and his wife as delegates to next month's county convention despite there being many open slots that went unfilled when the roster was completed. The precinct chairman, Jack Gamel, said it was because McNeely had run and won the position of First Vice Chairman of the Douglas party two years ago against Gamel's friend.
The petty attempt to settle a score has had much larger implications since McNeely is a candidate for the first vice chairman's position for the Georgia GOP, and currently holds the title of chairman of the Georgia Black Republican Council. Just days after National GOP Chairman Reince Priebus was in Atlanta to discuss minority outreach with local GOP leaders, a state party precinct chairman blocked the man in charge of minority outreach for the GAGOP from attending the Douglas County convention on a 3-2 vote.
Three white voters overrode two African American voters to exclude McNeely over pettiness. It is an embarrassment for the party and the state, and calls the question of whether this process for electing delegates to conventions is even relevant in this era.
The GOP has clearly had problems articulating a coherent and consistent message over many of the last election cycles. Unforced errors by those attempting to hold their grip on local fiefdoms do not help the bigger cause.
Change is coming to the electoral landscape here in Georgia. The Georgia GOP must figure out how to change with it. If it does not, there will be many local leaders who will be continuing to cling to their grip on power long while Republicans descend into minority party status.
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.