CLEVELAND – Daily breakfast gatherings serve as a rituals for delegates to a national political convention, and Georgians in Ohio got a taste of the ritual last week.
Each morning at the Republican National Convention, the Georgia contingent was bused from their hotel near the Cleveland Clinic to another hotel a few blocks away from Quicken Loans Arena. They enjoyed a generous spread for breakfast.
It’s not clear to me if this practice is mostly to keep the delegates in line, to give them their marching orders for the day or to provide a chance for social interaction. Probably all three, plus a chance for politicians to rally the troops – something both Republicans and Democrats use their conventions to do.
Among the Peach State pols who visited with the group through the week: Sen. Johnny Isakson, Sen. David Perdue, several congressmen, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
And one other guy, if just briefly: me. But more about that later.
In a convention rich with twists and surprises, Georgia’s delegation, and all state delegations, were counted on to be a steady part of the show. At breakfasts during the week, they were exhorted to be loud and enthusiastic. To be present in their seats, or make sure an alternate was, if they had to leave to, say, use the restroom or get something to eat.
They were repeatedly reminded that at any moment a TV camera could be focused on them, and they should represent Georgia well – don’t yawn or anything. They were even reminded that when certain chants started, they should join in. And they should put on certain hats at the right time.
By Thursday morning, party officials reminded them the convention that night would be a “TV show.”
None of this is meant to denigrate the delegates, who have a good time and play an important role. Their days are long, and they pay for the trip themselves.
Each day, after the 9 a.m. breakfast the delegates were bused off to parties before going to the arena for the prime-time events.
On the notion of fun, delegate Ellen Diehl brought a Donald Trump talking doll and was showing it off at the group’s hotel.
The Georgia contingent, like virtually all Republicans I talked to, were highly complementary of Cleveland, both the logistics of the convention and the friendliness of the people.
Said Congressman Tom Price: “I want to commend Cleveland” for its “Southern hospitality.”
“The city’s done a great job,” Attorney General Sam Olens said. “Even the Uber drivers are happy for people to see their city.”
That was nice for me to hear, as a Cleveland native.
What was less nice to hear was a daily dose of criticism of the AJC’s coverage of the convention and Georgia Republicans by party chairman John Padgett at the breakfasts.
On most days, I joined the AJC’s Greg Bluestein and Erica Hernandez in the back of the room at breakfast, observing and taking notes.
It seemed that each day there was a hot story that was not necessarily to the leadership’s liking. (After all, plagiarism of a speech is not the best breakfast topic.)
And Padgett let us know, usually in a good-natured but very public way – and to the delight of the delegates.
Of course, we expected the criticism. After all, if political types were always happy with us, it’d be a sure sign of us not doing our job. We strive to be non-partisan, so it’s understandable that partisans would have a different view than what we write.
(Just wait and see: I’m betting the Georgia Democrats will be unhappy with us as well.)
Even Padgett, who we’ve published critical stories of recently, seemed to feel like maybe he was piling on after a while.
So he offered me a chance to talk to the group – unfiltered. This was by all accounts historic, an unplanned talk by the AJC’s editor with Republican delegates.
You can watch a video of my brief comments at myAJC.com.
I took the occasion to remind delegates that our goals are to serve you, our readers, above all else.
We strive to be fair, and will take their criticism – and all criticism – seriously.
I wanted them to know how committed we are to covering this election, and how we’ll be devoting a lot of resources to it.
Our role, and the historical role of the American press, is to hold politicians accountable.
Even in the middle of the enthusiasm and passion of the party conventions, we can’t forget that.