From Southern Democrat to Southern Republican

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.

21 comments

  1. Burdell says:

    What is troubling about this essay is that it seems to equate “Democrat” and “Republican” with social issues only. The complaints I hear about modern Republicans is not their stance on social issues (in fact the Republican party has never been stronger in this issue), but on the party’s view of the proper role of Government and elected officials.

    The Republican Party is increasingly big-government and “good ol’ boy” in its philosophy. Sure, it may still be opposed to abortion, but we have no problem growing the welfare state in some way. Maybe its a different way from the Democrats and we don’t call it a “welfare state,” but all you have to do is look at the size of the state budget during Gov. Perdue’s tenure in office to know that something is amiss.

    Maybe this is the new face of the Republican party–big government with social values, but then all you’ve become is Democrats with morals, rather than true conservatives (read: classical liberals).

  2. JayHanley says:

    Don’t get me wrong. My family and I are conservative as can be on fiscal issues. I was just stating that social issues were a large tipping point for some in my family.

    In fact, here is a conversation that I had with Morris News Service reporter Brian Basinger at the 2004 Republican National Convention. It describes my views to a “T.”

    “I support him [President Bush] at the end of the day, but some of the spending at the federal level needs to go down a little bit,” said Watkinsville delegate Jay Hanley. “We need to work on that a little, and the border control. He needs to be tough on immigration policy. It’s too much of burden to add on to social services. There are too many social programs already.”

  3. IndyInjun says:

    Partisans are destroying America at breakneck speed.

    I voted GOP my entire life, but now understand that the party, which has abandoned ALL of its PRINCIPLES, is perhaps even more destructive than the Dems.

    Spending at all levels of GOP-controlled governments has simply exploded beyond all belief, shattering any and all claims to the mantle of fiscal responsibility.

    Simply put, the GOP has bankrupted America.

    America needs to give the boot to established politicians, especially in the cesspool called the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Charlie Norwood was the only Republican on the Georgia delegation to vote against the Medicare drug bill, honestly and directly referring it as the greatest example of what he went to Washington to oppose. He is gone, but you won’t here any of the GOPers here on PP insisting that the rest of the delegation pay any price at all for their lying, deceiving ways.

    Its the partisan poison at work. The GOPers here place a greater value on loyalty to their party gone mad and to the power of incumbency than they do to AMERICA.

    Trying desperately to divert attention from the REAL PROBLEM – SPENDING – that they created, the GOPers pathetically wander about touting all manner of “tax reform”, including the “fairtax” con job. Instead they should return to CONSERVATISM, which correctly prescribes spending cuts as the best possible tax reform.

    If America is to survive, she needs LEADERSHIP, not partisanship.

  4. rugby_fan says:

    “Paw Paw” was no liberal, but lived through the Depression and had some opportunities because of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

    So let me get this straight. Your father was “no liberal” yet he supported Democrats because he appreciated and benefited from the most liberal president (a borderline Socialist) this nation has ever had.

  5. JayHanley says:

    It was my Grandfather and yes you do bring up a good point, he did have some opportunities because of the New Deal, but ask other Southerners from that time and you’d hear the same thing (the WPA and TVA brought jobs to the South). As a fiscal conservative, I don’t agree with social programs.

    Perhaps I should have phrased it that he was “no social liberal.” As I said in the post, he was born a Democrat and died a Democrat.

  6. TPSoCal says:

    I also was raised by a traditional southern dem family. We have all switched to the GOP because of our perception of the demcrat weakness on national defense, as well as taxes. Don’t get me wrong, we are NOT happy with GOP spending or our conduct in the war in Iraq. But we don’t seem to have a choice. We cannot in good conscience support a democrat for any level of government. I came close in 1988, I planned on voting for then conservative and pro-life democrat Al Gore for President. But he lost out to Dukakis (go figure). So we ended up voting for Bush 41. I personally would love to vote for a democrat for President, since I believe alternating party in charge of the White House is a good idea. I just donn’t see a single democratic candidate I can see myself supporting. I must admit, I don’t really like any of the GOP candidates either. Too bad we only have two viable parties.

  7. mainstream GOP says:

    isn’t amazing that most of us here probably have similar storys of our or our family’s political transformation from Georgia Democrat to Georgia Republican…there are many more Zell Miller style Georgia Democrats out there, some we know personally, these people haven’t changes their views or values..but their part sure as hell has, we need to continue to convert them…many of them think, I was born a Democrat, I was raised Democrat, and I’ll be damned I don’t die a Democrat…politics isn’t like this anymore, the Democrats want to kick people like this out..look what they did to Zell Miller and Joe Liebermen, we need to convert them.

  8. JayHanley says:

    Zell is all but converted. But truly, it is hard for folks who are not native Georgians or Southerners to understand that for many, many years the ONLY election in Georgia and much of the South was the Dem Primary.

    Ironically today, in many parts of Georgia and the South, the Republican Primary is the ONLY election. Just ask several of the Democrat Party officials in Oconee County who are on record as voting in the Republican Primaries in 2000 and 2004.

  9. Kepper says:

    Well, like most here, I’m a southern democrat turned republican too. I’m originally from Tn. where my grandfather is a staunch democrat and refuses to turn. I just can’t understand why. Even my father, of whom I do not get along with, accuses me of being a “right-wanger”. I consider myself a Zell Miller democrat too although it’s basically a glorified republican ideaology. I believe in the Roosevelt philosophy of social issues, but I also have is strong moral values too. A strong national defense is a must. So, I guess i’m somewhere between the two parties. I sometimes believe a strong third party is needed for people like me as I am a moderate. However, for now, I will fight tooth and nail to keep the likes of the Clintons and the Obama’s from taking control of the Whitehouse.

  10. Burdell says:

    Jay, it’s good to see I misunderstood your position. Hopefully we can get the rest of the party to see things this way as well.

    Unfortunately, at the national level, Republicans view a 4% increase in non-defense spending as “reining-in.”

  11. RuralDem says:

    Great read. I know a few “yellow dogs” in my community who are as conservative as you can get.

    Our local races are still decided in the Democratic primary.

    I have a belief in the entire “Southern Democrat” debate. You can either switch parties and claim the party left you, or you can fight for reform within the party to make it the powerhouse it once was.

  12. Calybos1 says:

    It’s a classic situation when extremists sieze control of a party: next come the ideological purity tests and purges of anyone with counterrevolutionary leanings.

    Personally, I’m hoping the Republicans break free of the economic and religious extremists that currently call the shots and turn out the base, respectively. It would be nice to debate with someone sane for a change.

  13. grabbingsand says:

    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.

    The great shame is that most of today’s Republicans take the same course of action. The greater shame is how often this tactic works.

    (And I mean no offense to your grandfather. It is just unfortunate that you chose to promote your ideals by deriding the beliefs of others, instead of celebrating whatever positive contributions your party might have on this country.)

  14. Skeptical says:

    I’m puzzled Jay. You say “It was my Grandfather and yes you do bring up a good point, he did have some opportunities because of the New Deal, but ask other Southerners from that time and you’d hear the same thing (the WPA and TVA brought jobs to the South). As a fiscal conservative, I don’t agree with social programs. ”

    So basically, if you were in charge back then, your grandfather would have been screwed because you would never have enacted legislation to ease the suffering of the entire country – suffering that happened on the Hoover watch (and yes, Hoover was a Republican – those R’s have never been good with the public’s money have they?).

    The thing I keep hearing from the “conservatives” around me is that they keep voting for the Republicans because they want fiscal responsibility and someone to reign in the spending on social issues. Well, when the GOP was in charge of Congress, I believe they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one in the national Republican party knows a damn thing about fiscal responsibility. They spent money faster than a drunken sailor looking for a $10 hooker on shore leave.

    And as far as social issues go, how is a family supposed to pull itself up by its bootstraps if it doesn’t have any boots?

    Try talking to a Democrat today and 9 times out of 10 (probably 10 times out of 10), you will hear that we only want people to be able to make choices for themselves – not to have the government tell them what they can and can’t do in their own homes, in their own bedrooms, with their own bodies and so on. I thought you GOPers were for personal liberty? If so, why do y’all try to legislate morality?

    People who lived through the Depression most certainly will likely be Democrats because they saw government back then work as it should – as a safety net to help out when you need it. People fall on hard times and sometimes it’s not their fault. Should those people just be tossed aside and forgotten or should they be given some assistance and made productive members of society again? Should your family, Jay, have been thrown away because of circumstances beyond their control? I’m sure you are going to say no, so why is it any different today for families that fall on hard times?

  15. Faye says:

    I’ve been a democrat, a republican and back to a democrat again. It’s all about balance and

    I agree with TPSoCal: [I] I personally would love to vote for a democrat for President, since I believe alternating party in charge of the White House is a good idea. [/I]

    Even dems run the gamut from conservative to progressive.

    It’s so funny that as Jay said republicans try to “out Republican” themselves.

    “It just makes sense to have all Republicans in every office.”Jay is this what american democracy is about? You think it’s good for this country to have a one party system?

    You think that would work in Iraq too? Who would you pick,…..the sunni’s or shiites?

    Trying to drown out one party in favor of another is very destructive to democracy.

    The republican party was hyjacked by religious fundamentalists and the true strength of the republican values has been lost.

    As skeptical says: [I]The thing I keep hearing from the “conservatives” around me is that they keep voting for the Republicans because they want fiscal responsibility and someone to reign in the spending on social issues. Well, when the GOP was in charge of Congress, I believe they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one in the national Republican party knows a damn thing about fiscal responsibility. [/I]

    It’s time for a change.

  16. Calybos1 says:

    Yeah, what IS that about? It seems like a common disease, especially among pundits and talk-radio types: the inability to say “Democratic Party.”

    Check it out some time; look at their web sites, their blogs, and their forums. Over and over, you’ll see “Democrat Party.” The suffix -ic seems to stick in their throats, and I can’t help but wonder why that same problem is so widespread.

    It’s not like they’re all adopting GW’s pronunciation of “nukular,” after all.

  17. Calybos1 says:

    Carter was from the South; what’s Georgie Boy’s excuse?

    And the question remains: why can’t so many of these Bush apologists say the word “Democratic”?

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