Macon — The Republican grassroots of Georgia on Saturday declared themselves a free and sovereign power – independent of Nathan Deal.
It’s something that Newt Gingrich might want to take note of.
After showering the governor in boos, delegates to the two-day state GOP convention rejected Deal’s choice for a new chairman of the party. Instead, they re-elected Sue Everhart of Cobb County to a third and final two-year term.
“Republicans are passionate people,” Deal said after receiving his onstage rebuke – the most disapproving reaction at a GOP convention since U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss was chided for his efforts at immigration reform in 2007.
Deal was fully committed to Marietta businesswoman Tricia Pridemore, who worked on his campaign — to the point that the governor, his wife and his chief of staff all took seats in the convention as voting delegates. A first for a GOP convention.
But it was the second time that a Republican governor has been rebuffed in an attempt to place his own choice as head of the network that organizes tens of thousands of volunteers – and handles millions of dollars in campaign funds every other year.
The first time was in 2005 – when Everhart, a longtime GOP volunteer, pushed past Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Pridemore announced in December, shortly after Deal’s election.
The governor followed Herman Cain, the GOP presidential contender, to the microphone – where he received healthy applause from the crowd for putting his signature on HB 87, the illegal immigration bill.
Then he changed topics. “I have the utmost respect for Sue. I appreciate the job she has done,” the governor began – but said the party needed to reach out to newcomers to the party.
Deal waded in deeper. “I’m grateful that Tricia Pridemore has stepped up,” he said. And then the boos began.
A few of the 2,110 delegates stood to cheer Pridemore, but the chorus of boos was stronger.
Deal quickly wrapped up his speech. “I will respect your judgment, and I will work with whoever you select as the leader for our party,” he said.
The tug-of-war for control of the party chairmanship is a legacy of the long Republican march through the wilderness in the South. Without office-holders, mass meetings were the only tool for the selection of party leaders.
This year’s fight had elements of last year’s GOP race for governor. Former state Senate president pro tem Eric Johnson – a candidate for governor — of Savannah nominated Pridemore.
Karen Handel, who landed in the GOP runoff with Deal, was seated as a member of the Fulton County delegation. Her husband Steve sat beside her, sporting an Everhart sticker on his shirt.
But Deal’s biggest mistake may have been attempting the move at the height of tea-party fervor within the Republican party.
“This party belongs to us. We will not make the mistake to turn the party over to those who we, the people, [elect],” said Larry Mrozinski, a retired U.S. Army colonel, who spoke for Everhart – as she stood beside him.
Everhart is not a stellar speaker, as she herself admits. It was a point made to reporters by the governor, who said that elected officials need someone who can carry their messages to the media.
The independence of the chairmanship has also had implications for Republicans during campaign seasons. Last year, in the race for governor, national Democrats sent millions of dollars to the state organization in Georgia. The Republican Governors Association did not – and kept control of more than $5 million.
Everhart is a close friend of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, but he and most other GOP elected officials steered clear of the contest. Deal said he had no regrets about making his pitch for Pridemore.
”I knew there was division, but I felt it was only appropriate since I’d encouraged Tricia to be a candidate – that I let people know exactly where I stood,” he said. “She was an important part of my campaign. I came to know her, I came to trust her.”
“I don’t necessarily think the governor or anybody else in elected should dictate who the leadership of the party is,” the governor said. “I do think it’s important though, that the party has a good working relationship with the elected officials, whether it be the governor or members of the General Assembly.”
Then the governor took his seat as a voter. Voting lasted throughout the afternoon. At one point, the convention center ran out of food.
On the first ballot, Everhart took 48 percent of the vote, to Pridemore’s 36 percent – whereupon Ron Paul follower Carter Kessler of Athens dropped out, and Shawn Hanley, chairman of the Fulton County GOP, withdrew.
Everhart won on the second ballot. The convention quickly adjourned.
Now, to the implications for Gingrich. Not a few Republicans in Macon were noting that, if a governor can’t get his own candidate for chairman approved by the GOP hardcore, it doesn’t bode well for his choice for president.
No straw poll was taken, but Cain – like Gingrich, a man with Georgia roots – did very well with Republican delegates here.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider