A struggle within the Republican Party of Newton County Georgia is occurring. The 11 Alive news coverage of the attorney for Newton County, Tommy Craig, being paid more than $1 million dollars in 2014, along with some of the county commissioners’ incredulous lackadaisical attitude toward Craig’s unpaid tax bill, has sparked a tsunami of conservatism within county residents who turned to the Republican party in order to support more conservative candidates to hold positions in local government.
Prior to the party’s last meeting, held on February 7th, the Newton County GOP only had 30 attendees. And, in the last three national election cycles, Republican candidates have lost to Democrats. This could be seen as a failure of the Republican Party to attract and maintain members as well as a failure of the local party at the local level. So, some active members thought it would be prudent to get more people involved if those individuals were part of the convention process. Under the rules, as long as an individual joined the party and paid their dues by March 1st, they would serve as delegates to the convention. The rules also refer to a “merit system,” which according to sources state that Newton County has not had enough participation across all precincts within the county to even use that system and the merit system only applies after the county convention.
In response, the February 7th precinct meeting of the Republican Party had over 120 attendees who thought that if they joined the party by the March 1st deadline, they would serve as delegates to the county convention.
Much to their surprise, it seems that is not exactly what the Newton County Republican Party sitting chair, Delia Fleming, really wanted. These participants, who joined the Newton County Republican Party, received a letter from the party chair, Delia Fleming, saying “thanks but no thanks” as you “have not fulfilled the requirements of Article II – Party Membership of the Newton County Republican Party by Laws and therefore do not qualify to be a delegate or precinct officer to the County Convention.” The letters had no return address and no contact number. (see attachment) According to many, this is in direct violation of the county Republican Party by-laws, Article III, Section J.
Many of these individuals turned away by the GOP party chair were not only supporters of the Republican Party, but some represented the Libertarian, Tea Party and Independent voting base of the county. Those who had no official party felt the best way to have their voice heard in the political process from the beginning was to join the local GOP party. However, the newcomers were afforded less than a warm welcome as some individuals indicated that the GOP party chair, in the past, stated they should form their own political party.
Many of these fall under the banner of the Newton Conservative Liberty Alliance (NCLA). This group of individuals came together to work within the Republican Party in Newton County to increase conservatism and liberty in government by supporting Republican candidates who exhibit those same values. Because of the attempt by the party chair to reject their participation, many attended the February 23rd local GOP meeting in order to discuss the county convention, participation of new members of the party who represent precincts and to present an appeal to the party chair, Delia Fleming.
The most prominent personality of the NCLA is Aaron Brooks, NCLA spokesman and co-founder who had run for a political office in previous years but lost to his opponent by a narrow margin. According to Brooks, the failure of the Newton County GOP can be attributed to one of “exclusivity.”
Brooks stated, “The party has been operating under the standard of exclusivity. They exclude anyone who has views in conflict with their own. They don’t get to know the people before passing judgment.”
Brooks cited an email by Todd Bowen sent in 2013 that accused libertarians of supporting legalization of drugs and abortion on demand.
The email from Bowen stated, “They want to take over the Republican Party because they cannot get elected as Libertarians.” (see screenshot) Bowen also indicated the group supported legalization of drugs and abortion on demand. NCLA, per their Facebook page, does support Georgia HB-1, the legalization of cannabis oil with all hallucinogenic properties removed for use with children suffering seizure disorders; however, there was no mention of a stance regarding abortion.
One thing that should be remembered is there is pro-life and pro-choice individuals across both sides of the aisle as well as varying opinions on the legalization of cannabis. But, are “niche” issues reason to exclude those who support conservative, constitutional principles from participating in the political process under the Republican Party banner?
Brooks stated the goal was for everyone to gather under the Republican Party label and work together. Previously, the group had filed an appeal at the state party level but dropped it as a show of good faith – a sort of olive branch. However, this did not have the desired effect. This most recent incident has reignited the appeal process, which members seeking inclusion into the local GOP party signed.
In attendance at the meeting was Michael McNeely, First Vice-Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. Mr. McNeely gave a presentation updating the group on different activities of the Republican Party including fund raising and party growth, his efforts to promote the party, explanation of his duties as First Vice-Chairman and acknowledged the struggle occurring in the Newton GOP.
After Mr. McNeely’s presentation, Newton GOP chair, Delia Fleming highlighted the more outstanding accomplishments of the local GOP: a visible headquarters for the local GOP located on the town square in Covington in 2012; two major fundraisers that grossed $8-9,000; and, increasing voters in presidential elections by over 1,000 votes. Fleming indicated she wanted everyone at the meeting in the Republican Party before announcing she would not seek the chair position again; the meeting on the evening of February 23rd would be her last. She immediately adjourned the meeting without taking questions or addressing the letters she signed refusing individuals’ entry into the local GOP party. An individual associated with NCLA presented Ms. Fleming and Mr. McNeely with a copy of the appeal after the adjournment.
Many individuals presented Mr. McNeely with copies of the letters they received from Ms. Fleming denying them entry into the local party. The State GOP First Vice-Chairman listened genuinely to their concerns and responded sincerely. Mr. McNeely did state that it was preferable for the local GOP party to work things out between themselves as the party at the state level did not like to jump in and settle disputes.
In speaking with Mr. McNeely, he expressed genuine and sincere interest in including members into the Republican Party who may lean toward being Libertarian, Tea Party supporters or Independents. According to McNeely, finding commonalities that can be agreed upon is the key to expanding the party. He indicated that we must focus on the big picture and exchange ideas in order to prevent stagnation but the coming together would not happen overnight. When asked about his referral to the “big picture,” Mr. McNeely clarified the natural beginning for common ground would be focusing on our foundation – The Constitution of the United States.
Ms. Fleming was a bit defensive upon approach with questions, but she agreed to discuss a few issues regarding the local GOP party. She refused to discuss the issue regarding the exclusion of members into the local GOP citing the receiving of an appeal. Ms. Fleming echoed the sentiments of Mr. McNeely in the desire to grow the party while highlighting the biggest achievements of the local party were maintaining 2 Republican seats on the Board of Commissioners (BOC), removing the Democratic BOC chair, and the visible headquarters. Ms. Fleming believes the difficulties being faced with the party at the local level is a change in demographics – more individuals who are Democrat have taken up residence in Newton County. When questioned as to the abrupt meeting adjournment, Ms. Fleming cited the receipt of the appeal as the cause to adjourn the meeting.
According to Brooks, the struggle within the local GOP centers on the leadership attempting to maintain power instead of being concerned with what is good for the party.
For precincts in the county to be without representation hurts the Republican Party. The appeal’s main point is using the merit system to exclude members in the “precinct open call” which violates multiple rules of the state party. Many individuals agreed the merit system only applied once the process was past the county convention stage. And, all agreed there was no rule in the party by-laws that prevented Ms. Fleming from addressing any issues after receiving an appeal.
It appears now that the local GOP party will be charged with electing a new chairperson which will occur at the county convention. However, the struggle within the party has just begun with what appears to be a conflicting set of messages by the current local GOP party leadership. Another meeting is set for March 14th in front of the old Newton County Courthouse at approximately 9:00 am.
In speaking with the individuals who identify with the NCLA, the impression was one of concern for the loss of conservative values and principles, along with a lack of support for constitutional principles in government, regardless of party name and affiliation. Not only was this concern directed toward local government, but state and national government as well. No one talked a “take over” of the GOP party nor any action that could be considered “electing Libertarians” as suggested in the email by Todd Bowen. All expressed interest in participating in the process to restore conservative, constitutional principles in government. And, all expressed interest in participating under the Republican banner since no additional formal party exists in the current system.
It seems the issues, with the local GOP leadership, at least, come down to “small ones” rather than the larger ones. But, as Mr. McNeely pointed out, it is the commonalities–the larger picture–that should bring everyone together in maintaining constitutional government and supporting conservative principles. This is the sentiment of the NCLA as well.
Time will tell how this will play out, but one thing is for certain – those who want a voice in the political process here in Newton County will continue to push to be included in that process. These individuals did not set out to be examples for other counties in this state or any other in how to address exclusion at the local party level; but, that is exactly what they may be, should their appeal be accepted.
For more information on the NCLA, you may visit their Facebook page.