On May 18 and 19, more than 2,000 Georgia Republicans gathered in Columbus, Georgia for its state convention. Republicans actually gather three out of every four years in caucuses and conventions.
In odd-numbered years, Georgia Republicans elect their officers and governing committees, including the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. In presidential election years, Georgia Republicans meet to elect delegates to the Republican National Convention. They also elect their Republican National Committeeman and National Committeewoman (Georgia’s representatives on the Republican National Committee).
Georgia’s 2012 Republican State Convention was a raucous event. There were cheers and jeers; hoots and hollers; and votes and parliamentary maneuvers — lots of votes and parliamentary maneuvers. Without question, the 2012 Georgia Republican State Convention was quite an event. But then, Georgia Republican State Conventions always have been — even before Georgia Republicans took control of Georgia politics.
Mostly, these contentious conventions happen when new groups move onto the political stage for the first time. Probably one of the most famous examples occurred in 1988 when Pat Robertson and his network of social conservatives and evangelicals appeared in record numbers at GOP conventions around Georgia. Pat Robertson challenged then-Vice President George Bush for the Republican nomination for president.
While social conservatives and evangelicals are now considered a solid base for Republicans, that was not always the case. In 1988, the conventions were contentious and loud. At the State Republican Convention in 1988 in Albany, Georgia, then-GOP State Chairman John Stuckey pounded his gavel so hard that it broke. Eventually, the GOP newcomers left the convention and held their own ‘rump’ convention in the parking lot. Georgia ended up with two different slates of delegates to the National Convention. Eventually, the whole mess had to be sorted out at the 1988 Republican National Convention itself.
Sometimes, these contentious affairs have just involved a good old-fashioned struggle for control between factions of the Georgia Republican Party. The passions run deep and the conventions are long and equally divided. One convention was so divided that the new state chairman was elected only in the late evening hours. In another convention, Matt Towery (the convention chair) tossed a coin to decide the outcome.
Yet, like 1988, most of the time the raucousness in conventions results from newcomers. The last time it happened was when Tea Party activists appeared at conventions around Georgia. Long-time party activists fought to retain control, while new Tea Party activists worked hard to make inroads in some areas, and take over in other areas.
The 2012 Republican State Convention was like that. Although former Speaker Newt Gingrich won the 2012 Presidential Preference Primary (and mandatory support of most of the delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention), Congressman Ron Paul’s supporters showed up in force at conventions around Georgia. Of course, Georgia was not the first state that Congressman Paul’s supporters targeted for control. In fact, at the same time that Georgia Republicans met in Columbus, Congressman Paul’s supporters were taking over conventions in Minnesota and Iowa.
Of course, the targets of Congressman Paul’s supporters were the actual delegates to the 2012 Republican National Committee. While the outcome of Georgia’s Presidential Preference Primary decides who delegates to the National Convention must vote for on the first two ballots, Georgia’s Republican State Convention decides who those delegates will be. And, importantly, delegates decide many more things than just who will be the Republican nominee for President.
Delegates to the National Convention also decide rules, resolutions, and the platform of the Republican Party. Congressman Paul’s supporters, like Pat Robertson’s supporters in 1988, and Tea Party activists after that, care a lot about those things even if their candidate is not the nominee.
And so, more than 2,000 Republicans of every persuasion showed up in Columbus full of fervor and passion. Georgia Democrats and the media watched with some delight as the contentious proceedings were telecast via the internet for everyone to see. To the casual observer, Georgia’s 2012 Republican State Convention might have appeared to be a hopeless cause, with factions fighting vicious battles with no hope of reconciliation. Certainly, a few attendees will never be back. But, if history is any indication, it will be just a few.
For activists (regardless of cause) invested in the future of America, this is just the beginning, not the end. In today’s Republican Party, no one identifies themselves as “Pat Robertson” Republicans. Instead, they are just Republicans. And, Tea Party activists hold positions throughout the Republican Party without sacrificing the values and issues that are the core of their cause.
Growth in political parties depends on the addition of new groups, new causes, and new movements. If the 2012 Republican State Convention is any indication, the Georgia Republican Party just got a lot bigger.
Randy Evans is an Atlanta attorney with McKenna Long & Aldrige LLP. He is the former General Counsel of the Georgia Republican Party and remains active in the party on both the state and national level. He can be reached at www.mckennalong.com or McKenna Long & Aldrige LLP, Suite 5300, 303 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30308.