A surge of newcomers pack Georgia GOP meetings across state

Newcomers to Georgia Republican meetings raise their hands during the 1st District GOP convention on May 15, 2021.

Credit: Brandon Phillips

Credit: Brandon Phillips

Newcomers to Georgia Republican meetings raise their hands during the 1st District GOP convention on May 15, 2021.

The grassroots effort to punish Gov. Brian Kemp largely fizzled at key Republican meetings across the state this weekend even as record crowds of activists continued a relentless focus on former President Donald Trump’s lies about Georgia’s election results.

Fury over Trump’s narrow defeat combined with anger at President Joe Biden’s administration helped bring a surge of new faces to the weekend meetings, held in 13 of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts. Many speakers repeated Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud in Georgia, which have been repeatedly debunked.

The uptick in participation evoked memories of the round of Republican meetings in 2016, when Trump brought legions of new conservative supporters to sleepy party gatherings often dominated by establishment figures or long-standing volunteers.

In west Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District, former state Sen. Josh McKoon asked for a show of hands and was surprised to find more than half of the 274 delegates had never attended a convention before.

Likewise for Brandon Phillips, chair of the 2nd Congressional District in South Georgia, who posted a picture of dozens of newcomers with the caption: “Y’all better keep up in Atlanta.”

Metro Atlanta conventions held their own, too. Marci McCarthy, the chair of the DeKalb GOP, said an influx of new faces “who are turning their anger into action and advocacy” signed up as convention delegates for the first time.

And Brad Carver of the 11th District, which covers a stretch of northwest Georgia’s suburbs, said more than half of the delegates who attended Saturday’s convention had never shown up to a GOP meeting before this election cycle.

In all, GOP chair David Shafer said there was record turnout for district meetings — and that roughly half of the members participated for the first time.

Other notes from the meetings:

Gov. Brian Kemp talks to the press before signing HB 479, which repeals Georgia's citizen's arrest law at the State Capital Monday, May 10, 2021.    STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Kemp backlash:

At least a half-dozen districts passed resolutions condemning Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Secretary of State Brad Raffenspeger for defying Trump’s demands to overturn the election.

But Kemp avoided similar fallout, despite votes in more than a dozen county-level GOP meetings to “censure” him last month. In some districts, the “censure” resolutions never made it to a final vote. In others, the efforts to rebuke Kemp were bottled up in committees or watered down.

One exception was the 7th District in Atlanta’s northeastern suburbs, where delegates voted overwhelmingly to pan Kemp. Former state Rep. Buzz Brockway, who opposed the resolution, said he wished Republicans “would quit fighting each other and put forward a positive agenda.”

Redistricting drama:

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene celebrated a resolution that easily passed the 14th District urging lawmakers not to substantially change the boundaries of her territory during redistricting.

The newly elected Republican’s rhetoric — labeled as hateful and racist by critics — and her pariah status among some GOP officials in Washington, fueled speculation that state lawmakers could redraw her district later this year to try and make it harder to win another term.

Most GOP insiders roll their eyes at the idea. Not only has Greene built up a formidable bank account, she’s also proven before that political boundaries don’t matter.

After all, she launched her campaign for the northwest Georgia seat from her home in the Atlanta suburbs — and a WSB investigation found she and her husband apparently have two active homestead exemptions, in north Fulton County and in Rome. A spokesman for Greene blamed Fulton for the error.

Nevertheless, Greene and her allies secured a resolution that highlights her battle against “sell-out Republicans” in urging lawmakers not to tinker with her boundaries.

Corporate backlash:

Several GOP districts adopted resolutions that slammed Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines for criticizing Georgia’s new election restrictions.

The 11th District GOP’s resolution offered a glimpse of the corporate backlash: It called for Coke products to be banned from party events, an end to Delta flights for official Georgia GOP travel and pressed lawmakers to rescind a lucrative jet fuel tax break for the airline.

A canceled convention:

All 14 congressional districts were supposed to hold meetings on Saturday, but the 1st District gathering was canceled amid continuing fallout over a chaotic vote held at Savannah’s Chatham County GOP last month. The Savannah Morning News has details here.

He’s running:

Former Cobb GOP chair Jason Shepherd plans to continue his uphill battle to lead the state GOP.

After flirting with a run for a lesser post, Shepherd told us Saturday he’ll continue his challenge against Shafer at the Georgia GOP’s June gathering. Shafer boasts a coveted endorsement from Trump, which has scared off other potential opponents.

Other leadership posts:

Here’s a list of other winners: