On Saturday, FreedomWorks hosted a debate of four Republican candidates for governor.
Democrats were invited, but did not attend the Gwinnett County event. Two GOP candidates – Jeff Chapman and Ray McBerry — were excluded. Organizers cited their low, 2 percent showings in a poll earlier that week.
McBerry was barred for other reasons as well, an Atlanta Tea Party organizer explained – including his refusal to salute the U.S. flag, and a relationship he had with a 16-year-old girl when he was a public school teacher.
The exclusion has angered Chapman, a former state senator from Brunswick who has challenged his party’s close association with monied interests in the state.
Mike Griffin, a Chapman field organizer, said what really stung the campaign was the fact that former state Eric Johnson of Savannah, at 5 percent in the same survey, was permitted onstage. The poll had a 5 percent margin of error – which meant, statistically, Chapman could be ahead of him.
(Johnson also has the support of the influential Reynolds family. Chapman had been a tough critic of a contract won by a Reynolds company to renovate Jekyll Island. The deal is now dead.)
In the end, debate organizers – who on Monday maintained they had made the right decision — offered Chapman a chance to address the Gwinnett tea party crowd separately. He declined and did not attend.
Instead, Chapman has put out the following statement criticizing the organizers of the FreedomWorks debate:
Tea party members around the nation are declaring, “We have come to take our government back.”
But in Georgia, leaders of the Atlanta Tea Party have sold out to establishment politics. Shame on them!
Atlanta Tea Party leaders refused to include all GOP candidates for governor in their debate Saturday at the Gwinnett Center forum in Duluth, deciding instead to limit who their members could hear from.
Their reason: “We feel strongly that two of the top four will go to a runoff,” tea party spokeswoman Debbie Dooley said. Well, yes, a runoff is almost a certainty. The participants, not so much.
The truth is that today’s voters are confused and looking for answers. The real leader in the GOP race for governor is not one of the so-called top-four candidates – three of whom are polling in the teens or well below – but “Undecided Voter”, polling at 40 percent.
By not allowing all candidates to debate, the Atlanta Tea Party has robbed its members of a chance to hear from a candidate who clearly represents the conservative principles they value. Instead, leaders have driven voters towards establishment candidates with ties to power brokers in the Republican Party.
Furthermore, three of these four candidates abandoned government posts at one of the most difficult times in Georgia’s history since the Great Depression in order to fund-raise and better their own personal chances to get elected to higher office.
By contrast, and at the expense of my own campaign, my commitment to serving out my senate term and to staying the course for the people of Georgia has been ignored by tea party leaders, who, by locking me out of Saturday’s debate, have turned their backs on their own principles and members.
The unprincipled establishment politics that have landed us in the mess we’re in today cannot possibly get us out of it. If the Atlanta Tea Party leaders truly want to take back our government, they cannot practice politics as usual.
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