Today’s Courier Herald Column:
My interest in politics has been cultivated throughout most of my life. When I was growing up, my family was very politically aware, but not politically active. My first political experience was being “Gerald Ford” in my second grade Presidential debate. I was crushed by the popular vote by my peers but was comforted by the fact that “Jimmy Carter” told me he liked my speech so he voted for me. Four years later I got to be my sixth grade class’ Ronald Reagan. I liked that outcome a bit better.
My first bout with organized politics was as a Young Republican at the University of Georgia. My interest in politics was still strong but my interest in one of the co-eds in the group was, in retrospect, most likely responsible for my attendance.
That involvement ended when I attended their convention that year in Savannah. It was then that I got my taste of “real” partisan politics. The kind that is intra-partisan. It is, at times, the ugliest kind of politics.
Our hosts for the weekend were heavily involved in the inside baseball of the Young Republican organization (a group whose members are from 18 to 40). We were housed by a local Republican candidate who kept having arguments with his live in girlfriend about her not being able to stay over while the convention was in town because “it wouldn’t look right”. We were coached about who we were to vote against because those people were evil, only to be told hours later that these evil people were our new best friends.
In the end, it appeared to be a two day exercise in post-high school theatrics and bullying that seemed to myself and a couple of other outsiders on the trip to be only a game designed for the sake of playing a game. I didn’t feel we accomplished anything that weekend to promote the Republican Party or the conservative cause. Instead, it was an exercise in contradiction and hypocrisy.
It was two Presidential election cycles later before I tried again at party politics. My dad was recruited to challenge our incumbent county Tax Commissioner and I got involved in my county’s Republican party. Soon after I was appointed to the Party’s executive committee. I received an officer’s position the following election cycle and later became the party’s first vice-chairman.
I came into the party during what appeared to be a seminal battle over control of the party between the “establishment” and “outsiders”. Except it’s really hard to say which group was which. The control of the party had passed back and forth between the groups in the preceding election cycles.
Those battles continued during my time there, and continue today. I was a part of many of them. I was convinced my side was right. The other side sure was convinced they were too. In the end, much of the energy that should have been devoted to expanding the party’s base, strengthening the grassroots network and identifying our core voters, and mobilizing our efforts to influence government according to conservative principles were lost to our own ongoing civil war.
I left organized party politics early in the last decade and have rarely looked back.
Elections for the leaders of the Georgia Republican Party are underway, via a series of conventions leading up to the state convention in May. Last Saturday, counties across Georgia met to elect their local leaders and their delegates to state and district conventions. Some incumbents lost to “outsiders”. Other incumbents circled the wagons to limit influence of groups organized to bring change. Such is the cycle every two years. Each side, in the name of the party, is convinced they are right.
In the aftermath, there were many claiming victory. Incumbents were deriding challengers for being anti-Republican in daring to challenge the status quo. Tea party and libertarian-leaning Republicans were crowing over defeating the “establishment” in the areas where they won. The taunts are as unseemly as I remember my first experience in Savannah, with the immaturity in wanting control more than executing a mission clear and palpable.
The Tea Party, after winning significant control and influence since its founding, needs to quickly understand that they too are part of the Republican establishment. Railing against the establishment undercuts the appreciation of their accomplishments in an effort to abdicate responsibility for their failures. Tea Party Republicans now co-own the strengths and weaknesses of this party.
Likewise, incumbent officers who taunt newcomers as not being sufficiently Republican undercut their own mission of using their leadership to grow the party. The party is not about protecting personal fiefdoms and internal positions of power. It’s about building a broad coalition to deliver the message of conservatism while strengthening the numbers of elected Republicans to enact and defend those principals.
I have returned to active GOP membership in my new home county. I am honored to be elected as a delegate to the 11th District GOP convention and the State GOP convention. I take this responsibility seriously.
I take it seriously enough to tell the “establishment” and the “challengers” to knock it off, now. You are turning me and many other outsiders off to this process.
I am not voting to help you pad a resume. I am not voting against your opponent because you have labeled them a liberal, RINO, evil incarnate, or any other petty pejorative.
I’m looking for the leaders who will build the best party to articulate and implement a vision and plan to elect those who will limit the size and scope of government intrusion into our lives. Only those who seek to grow the base need apply.