The monthly meeting of the Atlanta Young Republicans Wednesday night featured a panel discussion that touched on the diversity within the party, and which principles the different parts of the party can use to attract others to the party. The panel included three members, Beth Beskin, Leo Smith, and David Bachman.
Beskin represents House District 54 in the General Assembly. Her Buckhead district is one of the most highly educated in the state, but it is also one of the most moderate districts controlled by the GOP. Leo Smith is the Georgia GOP’s Minority Engagement Director. His role within the party has been to encourage minorities — from African Americans, to Hispanics to Asians — to support Republican principles, and vote for GOP candidates. Bachman is the former chair of the College Republicans at West Georgia College. Bachman, who is gay, participated in a March, 2015 demonstration against Religious Liberty legislation.
In the portion of the discussion devoted to questions from the audience, 11th District Republican Party Chairman Brad Carver noted that if the GOP fights among itself, it will lose. He asked the panel members what they would do to keep the party focused on winning in November 2016, rather than having the party’s different factions attacking each other.
Starting out, Smith said that the Republican Party needs to focus more on policy, since policy is less personal, and more about ideas. Noting that Democrats are quick to follow social trends, such as search and seizure or civil forfeiture, Smith said the GOP should pay attention to what people are talking about. He mentioned Uber as an example of something free market oriented. Then, Smith brought up education reform as a way of appealing to a wider audience.
Republicans were really confused over whether or not we wanted to deconstruct eduction by starting an education reform movement. We’ve been really hesitant to jump in on policy issues that might be easy for us to become trendy, but trendy in an effective way. I think that;s one of the ways for us to bring people together. I know that for those charter school moms out there that are African-American, they voted for Governor Deal last year just for that.
Rep. Beskin noted that Democrats have done a really good job of picking an issue and driving it as a wedge between the GOP and voters. She said Democrats have picked off one issue after another and convinced people that Republicans do not represent them on that particular issue. The GOP has to get smarter, Beskin pointed out. The party has to figure out what the Democrats are not talking about and focus on what the different groups within the GOP have in common.
Beskin also brought up education reform as an area the GOP should focus on. In addition to the charter schools concept that Smith brought up, she said the party should make an issue out of the challenges of teaching children in poverty, and how the public school system breeds intergenerational poverty.
She also advocated taking a more aggressive approach to respond to wedge issues. She cited Senator Rand Paul’s response to the question, “When does life begin?” Rather than becoming pinned down, the Senator told his questioner to ask the Democratic Party that question. Beskin thought that the GOP would be in a good position to use the pro-life issue against the Democrats with the new Planned Parenthood videos that were recently released.
Bachman said that it was important that the party express a unified position on issues, noting that while the GOP has diversity of opinion, the Democrats tend to speak with one voice. He also called for what he termed smart legislation:
Last year, we had controversial legislation, it was RFRA. It was controversial nationwide. And I would just like to point out that that legislation has failed twice now in Georgia. I was very outspoken about it, and rallied with several hundred people at the state capitol.
In Indiana, Mike Pence had to go defend his state after billions of dollars were pulled out. Embarrasing for him. We don’t want that to happen again next year in 2016 for the state of Georgia, otherwise we’ll see every major news network parked out in front of the state capitol.
They’ll be branding the Republican Party. They’ll say we’re bigots. They’ll say we’re homophobes. And then Hillary Clinton will come down here with her stump speech and raise a million dollars.
The panel discussion was broadcast live on Periscope. You can watch a replay below. The discussion above begins at about 25:00 in the video.