Whitfield County Republican Party Chairwoman Dianne Putnam says the party’s mass precinct meeting represents the American political system at its best.
“This is where everything begins. You don’t have to be appointed by any committee. You just have to show up and be willing to serve,” she said.
GOP members gathered Saturday at the party’s headquarters on Pentz Street to elect delegates to the county convention in March.
“The delegates there will elect officers, local officers, to run the county party for the next two years. They will also elect delegates to attend the district and state conventions,” Putnam said.
After a group meeting, dozens of Republican Party members separated based on which precinct they vote in to select delegates to the county convention.
The GOP controls all but two local offices and dominates at the state level. But party members watched last year as their presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, went down to defeat against President Barack Obama.
“It was frustrating. You wonder who are they listening to? Are they hearing the same message we are?” said former Whitfield County Republican Party Chairman Dewey Moss.
Republicans gathered Saturday said their goal is to maintain the party’s majority in the county and state and try to lay the grounds for a national resurgence.
How can the GOP improve its position?
“We need to govern better than we have. The Republican Party dominates Georgia from a political standpoint, but Georgia is not doing very well economically, educationally or by just about any other measure,” said Dalton Mayor David Pennington. “We need to improve the Republican Party and get better people running for office. In some cases, we need primary opposition for our incumbents.”
Pennington said some state lawmakers aren’t living up to the small government ideals they espouse.
“All these Republicans talk about limited government and somehow end up in full-time government jobs. That doesn’t sound like limited government to me,” he said.
He also said the GOP needs to do more to make citizens confident they have an ethical government.
“They passed a law requiring local governments to have open meetings and maintain open records. But our state Legislature isn’t governed by those laws. They need to do ethics reform, and that needs to be part of it,” he said.
Ed Painter, who is also a tea party activist, said that mass precinct meetings, which are being held across the state, can help keep elected officials accountable. He says the GOP put a question on last year’s primary ballot asking if gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists should be limited because the grassroots demanded it.
But even as local Republicans looked to the future, they took the time to reflect on its past.
Former Whitfield County Board of Commissioners member Leo Whaley was one of the initial group that founded the county Republican Party in the 1960s.
“We weren’t even a party then because we were so small. We were an association,” he said.
At the time, the Democratic Party dominated local and state politics even more soundly than the GOP does today.
“I’m proud of how far we have come,” said Whaley.