And the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition said Wednesday that it plans to stage its annual policy conference in October in Atlanta’s suburbs, with options for participants to watch in person or online.
Organizers stress that each group is following guidance on COVID-19 from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, who attended the RAGA meeting, said through a spokesman that he’s confident the group took “appropriate precautions” to keep attendees safe.
But as Democrats largely abstain from in-person events, the conferences epitomize how in-person GOP gatherings — like several speeches at this week’s Republican National Convention — have become political statements in and of themselves.
“They should listen to scientists. We lead the state and we should set the example,” said state Rep. Al Williams, a Democrat who represents a nearby district.
“On the coast, we like to think we’re invincible. But no place can avoid this disease,” Williams said. “I just don’t think we should hold any events of more than 10 people.”
The RSLC, the national group that supports GOP legislative candidates, drew a list of well-known politicians including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and state House Majority Whip Trey Kelley to Georgia’s coast for meetings.
On the docket Wednesday was a beachside brunch after a morning policy discussion, followed by a “political update breakfast” Thursday morning and options to golf, shoot clay targets or hit the beach for the afternoon.
Participants say they’re following strict safety guidelines to combat the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“I’ve had my temperature taken numerous times, masks are required and we are following social-distancing protocols,” Kelley said.
Austin Chambers, the committee’s president, said he hopes the group sets a standard for how to “smartly and safely” return to a sense of normalcy.
“Americans know we can join together safely, and we look forward to continuing to do so,” he said.
RAGA executive director Adam Piper offered a similar assessment, saying “more went into planning this meeting” than any other in the group’s history.
It was important for us to lead by example and show the nation that it is possible to safely assemble and re-open the economy,” he said.
The Atlanta-based Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual meeting is its signature event, and last year it drew thousands of conservative activists who watched President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other Republican officials tout their agendas.
This year’s event was postponed over the summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, and then it was shifted to Oct. 1-2 at Cobb Galleria Center. Timothy Head, the group’s executive director, said it was a “great option” given the organization’s Atlanta roots and Kemp’s aggressive reopening of the state’s economy.
Planners are still working through the particulars, Head said, and some measures will be time-sensitive.
“If things are trending in the right direction, then we’ll have social distancing and masks available, and temperature checks at the door,” he said. “And we’ll have a shake-free conference — as in no handshakes.”