by Jay Hanley, Secretary, Oconee County Republican Party
With the special election to succeed Congressman Charlie Norwood looming, much has been discussed and will be discussed about potential candidates, their strengths, weaknesses and political philosophy. With the strong Republican tilt of the district, talk has begun as to which candidate is the most conservative Republican. I’m sure candidates will soon try to “out Republican” each other.
Some will say that because some candidates have not always been Republicans that they are not qualified to represent the GOP or its values and ideas. Someone should not be disqualified as a legitimate Republican just because they once identified themselves as Democrats or once worked for a Democrat. If that was the rule, Ronald Reagan would not have been qualified to be President, Sonny Perdue would have been prohibited from being Governor and many state legislators would have been forbidden to serve. I myself would have been deemed ineligible to seek office or serve as a county GOP officer.
The following is mine and my family’s story of our transformation from Southern Democrats to Southern Republicans:
I must confess that like most native Georgians, I was born a Democrat, but have since “seen the light.” My family has long been active in Georgia politics. My paternal great grandparents served as Jackson County campaign coordinators for the Talmadge family. My parents and grandparents volunteered for our family friend, 1990 Democratic candidate for Governor, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald. My maternal grandmother helped elect Democrat Don Johnson to Congress in 1992. Before I was old enough to think for myself, I took a lot of advice from my late paternal grandfather, a yellow dog Southern Democrat. “Paw Paw” was no liberal, but lived through the Depression and had some opportunities because of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. He used to say to me, “You don’t remember the [Herbert] Hoover days.” To my knowledge, I do not think he ever voted for a Republican candidate. In fact, he used to tell me that if he was alive when I ran for office, he might have a hard time voting for me if I ran as a Republican!
When I became old enough to think for myself, I told Paw Paw that I did not like what the Democrats were doing and saying and that I liked what I heard from the Republicans. He was disappointed with my decision, but truly, he had a conservative philosophy. I tried to get him to switch parties by reminding him he opposed things like affirmative action, abortion, same sex marriage and other issues the Democrats advocated. I think he was just too old and set in his ways and I could not convince him to change parties. He was born a Southern Democrat and died a Southern Democrat.
I was, however, able to change my maternal grandmother’s mind and in 2002, she cast her vote in her first statewide Republican Primary. She realized after my discussions with her that she was no longer a Democrat and had not been for a long time. I asked her why she had always been a Democrat and her reply was “because my Daddy said we were Democrats.” I imagine that that might have been a standard reply in many Southern families. In November 2004, Grandma cast her vote for George W. Bush. Now she is almost as big a Republican as I am and she has convinced many of her friends to become Republicans. In 2006, Grandma voted for every Republican nominee on her ballot with her reasoning being, “Each Republican needs another Republican in office to help them out. It just makes sense to have all Republicans in every office.”
That quote came from a woman that voted for such Democrats as Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Bottom line, people can genuinely change their views and after soul-searching realize that they had been misinformed. Be vigilant when looking at each candidate’s merits, but don’t automatically disqualify someone for past mistakes. People can change and change for the better.