If you’re active in Georgia Republican politics and you haven’t already heard, there are some strange things going on in Newton County, where I live.
Prompted by some very recent local issues dealing with a county attorney whose law firm received payments of over $1.1 million in 2014 and the absolutely stubborn attitudes of a couple county commissioners, concerned members of the community sprang into action. They attended county commission meetings to make their voices heard and many of them decided it was time to get involved in local politics.
Since they all hold fiscally conservative and limited government views, these local residents believed one big way they could get involved would be through the Newton County Republican Party.
The Newton County Republican Party, to its own detriment, has wronged a lot of people who have a sincere interest in improving their community. Some 120 people showed up on Saturday, February 7 to participate in the local party’s mass precinct meeting. Given that we had no contested delegate seats, all of them were elected to be delegates to the March 14 county convention.
Since then, however, more than 80 duly elected delegates have now been told that will not be seated at the convention. An appeal has been filed seeking to overturn this pernicious decision, which appears to violate Georgia Republican Party rules.
The appeal was handed to the local party chair, Delia Fleming, on Monday at the monthly party meeting. After adjournment, several people who received letters from her stating that they were rejected, but she was unwilling to talk them about their situations because, she said, she can’t, which is patently absurd. She just didn’t want to talk to them.
As far as I know, the vice chair of the party, Bill Perugino, didn’t talk to anyone about the situation, either. But after the meeting, he was clearly agitated. Rather than move an empty chair that was in his way to get around me while I was chatting with a couple who’d received a letter denying them their spots as delegates, Perugino bumped into me and sarcastically said, “Excuse me.” When I went back into the conversation, he walked over and angrily asked, “Can you help pick up the chairs?” I looked at him and replied, “I’m in the middle of a conversation. I’ll help when I’m done.”
After talking with several of the folks who attended our monthly party meeting, many of whom I was meeting for the first time, I realized how much diversity was there. In fact, out of the 15 to 20 people who wondered to the restaurant next door from where the meeting was held, I found hardcore social conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and, outside of myself, one other libertarian.
Outside of a common interest in growing the Republican Party, the theme in the discussions I had with them was frustration. Many of the people with whom I talked don’t have the time to put into activism. They have jobs, families, and other civic activities that take up their time.
Frankly, I’m embarrassed for my party that they would exclude more than 80 people — including elected officials, past county party chairs, and Republican donors — from participating in a process for which they were chosen by their respective precincts. Thankfully, I’m not alone. (Please note: I received a letter confirming that I met the Newton GOP’s arbitrary criteria to serve as a delegate.)
And there are a few other things I’d like to get off my chest.
Originally, I had put the following long-winded part of this post in the middle, but I figured it would be best to just cut straight to the point. I want to take some time to explain how and why I decided to become a Republican.
I should note that I’ve been active in the Newton County Republican Party since around the summer of 2013. Yeah, I know, I was once a very vocal and very involved member of the Libertarian Party right here in Georgia. But I gave up on the Libertarian Party for a number of reasons, but there are two big ones on which I’ll focus for purposes of this post.
First, I recall a conversation with a prominent party member during the 2012 Libertarian National Convention. She told me something along the lines of this: “We’ve got to stop thinking of ourselves as a political party. We’re here to educate people.”
“Why am I here, then? What’s the point of this?” I asked, after all, there are a number of think tanks and organizations — such as the Cato Institute, the Institute for Justice, and FreedomWorks — that effectively promote libertarian ideals.
Second, the level of dysfunction I saw at all levels of the Libertarian Party was ridiculous. “This is a sh*t show,” I recall a friend saying to me on the floor of the convention. He’d been removed as a delegate because he wasn’t going to vote the right way and was understandably frustrated, but I agreed with his assessment.
Though the previous examples are just the tip of the iceberg, I left that convention highly annoyed, frustrated, and asking questions. I’d flirted with coming back to the Republican Party before. In 2007, a friend convinced me to get involved in party politics and during the weekend of the Georgia Republican Party convention that same year, I was elected to the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Georgia, a group that works to advance the libertarian philosophy in the GOP. I resigned my post after Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — whose views on foreign policy, free speech, and gun rights were objectionable to me — won the party’s nomination.
Not long after the 2012 Libertarian National Convention, I resigned my post in Gov. Gary Johnson’s campaign and, soon after that, cut all ties with the Libertarian Party, which, I’d decided in my own mind, was ineffective and irrelevant. The libertarian philosophy existed long before the Libertarian Party, whose platform does not do justice to the wide range of views of those who subscribe to the philosophy.
In October 2012, I accepted a job in Washington, DC and moved up there in December of that year. The firm with which I accepted the job predominately worked with Republicans. While I lived there, I joined the DC Young Republicans and, after I moved to Arlington, talked with a friend about getting involved in the local Republican Party. I moved back home, largely because I couldn’t sell my house and the cost of travel had become too much.
Almost immediately after I got back in April 2013, which I believe was the weekend of the 2013 Georgia Republican Party convention, I began getting emails and phone calls from friends and acquaintances, none of whom live in Newton County, about getting involved, once again, in the GOP. I wasn’t ready and politely declined. I was adjusting back to life at home and focusing developing a routine for working from a remote location. And frankly, I was at a point I where I was spurning all party politics, calling myself a political independent but philosophical libertarian. Yeah, you live in DC, for even a short time, and see how you feel about things when you leave.
A short time later, a friend of mine, who has since become a very good and close friend, messaged me one day on Facebook about grabbing lunch. We met up and talked about local politics. He asked me, basically, to get involved because of some issues going on in the community. The discussion piqued my interest and, eventually, I did.
We began talking about forming a local group that would bring together conservatives and libertarians — call it “fusionism,” if you’d like — and raise awareness to local issues, such as fighting against a property tax hike in 2013 and, more recently, the controversy surrounding the county attorney. We followed through and started a group: the Newton Conservative Liberty Alliance. I’m proud to call each person in this group a close friend.
At some point in the late summer or early fall of 2013, I began regularly attending Newton County Republican Party meetings. I had gone to maybe one or two before this point, though it had been awhile. I also attended an open house for the local party in May 2012, since I planned to pull a Republican primary ballot, so I could ask candidates for sheriff questions about crime in the county, which was an important issue for me since my home had been burglarized. I didn’t feel very welcome, and I still don’t.
In some respects, this boils down to misconceptions of what I believe — call it a fear of something different, if you will. The libertarian philosophy promotes individual, economic liberty, and limited government. Some believe that libertarianism and conservatism are competing philosophies that can never mesh. Ronald Reagan didn’t think so.
“If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism,” the Great Communicator once told Reason. “The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.”
He echoed that point in an interview with 60 Minutes, saying that “the heart of my philosophy is much more libertarianism.” He was interrupted by the host, who said, “Well, that’s the fashionable word these days, I guess. A conservative is no longer just that, he’s a libertarian.” Reagan replied, “Well, always has been.”
Reagan wasn’t the only prominent Republican to openly embrace libertarianism. Barry Goldwater, the GOP’s nominee in 1964, held libertarian views. Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate in economics and member of Reagan’s economic advisory team, was a libertarian. The Koch brothers, Charles and David, who’ve donated heavily to Republican candidates and fiscally conservative causes, are also libertarians.
Even speaking generally about voters who are considered libertarians or have libertarian leanings, they overwhelmingly back Republicans.
When it all comes down to it, there is now a fourth leg to the Republican stool: libertarians. We either find a way to work together or we will fail.