Bias In Catoosa County & GAGOP Disconnect With Voters
This post also appears on GeorgiaPol.com as well as NorthwestGeorgiaNews.com and in the Walker County Messenger/Catoosa News upcoming print edition.
It is encouraging to see conservatives criticizing Georgia Republican officials for their lack of impartiality in the recent primary. For casual voters, it wasn't obvious, but for anyone paying attention, it was clear some party officers were biased. Among those who have spoken out on the issue is Erick Erickson, who called for the removal of state party chairman David Schafer.
A lack of impartiality was not limited to the state level. Local party organizations throughout the state rejected neutrality. The screen grabs below are from a conversation with Catoosa County Republican Party Chairwoman Joanna Hildreth in which she acknowledged promoting a group of candidates during the recent primary election.
This type of behavior was not an uncommon occurrence in Northwest Georgia county parties this year. In a neighboring county, associates of county GOP officers were caught snatching campaign signs on election eve. There were also cases in which incumbent candidates were not informed of a public meet and greet while their challengers were present.
Deepening the Disconnect
In addition to questions regarding the impartiality of GOP officials during the primary, some have pointed to a broader issue. Former State Representative Scot Turner wrote an article recently about the disconnect between party activists and Republican voters. In the article, Turner cited a Georgia Republican Assembly (GRA) straw poll and compared the numbers with the recent primary results. Republican voters went against the preferred activist candidates in all primary contests. Such a result is interesting since the GRA bills itself as the Republican Party's conscience.
Through encouragement of a “purity over persuasion” brand of politics, the GRA fuels this disconnect. The GRA has been aided by questionable outside groups and individuals who have have been accused of astroturfing(fake grassroots) in campaigns to challenge incumbents in other states. Additionally, Catoosa Chair Hildreth and 14th district chair Denise Burns are both officers in the GRA and its northwest Georgia sub chapter.
Campaign finance filings for the GRA PAC reveal that more than $40,000 was paid to a canvassing and grassroots political firm, Mobilize the Message. The founder and CEO of this company is Cliff Maloney Jr, the former President of the libertarian activist group Young Americans for Liberty. Maloney and the group were hit with a deluge of sexual assault claims in January 2021. Take a look at the tweets with the hashtag #YALTOO.
Young Americans for Liberty fired him and several around him before a formal investigation was finished (or started). The GRA hired his firm after the allegations and firing. Maloney’s relationship with the GRA is significant. No other vendor comes close to the amount collected by Maloney’s firm. Still further, several GRA-endorsed candidates used another Maloney firm, 5411 LLC, spending thousands of dollars each.
In April 2022, Maloney was indicted on two counts of rape of an unconscious girl in Pennsylvania while he was a resident advisor. I mention this only because of the circumstances of his firing and the services he was hired to provide to the GRA. Everyone deserves their day in court.
Maloney made his name with Young Americans' canvassing efforts. Canvassing efforts like those undertaken this year by dark money PAC Make Liberty Win (MLW) in Georgia. Make Liberty Win is tied to Maloney's former employer, Young Americans for Liberty, and conducts similar activities to his firm, Mobilize the Message. MLW endorsed many of the candidates supported by GRA. Paid canvassers were hired from out of district and out of state to campaign in districts promoting MLW endorsed candidates. It spent more than $125,000 in Georgia on a small group of candidates. It's a plan Maloney and various dark money PACs have used the past several years to challenge incumbent Republicans in state legislative contests across the nation.
The candidates promoted by Hildreth received active support from the GRA and Make Liberty Win. In close races, Mitchell Horner and Colton Moore won open seats. The other promoted candidates were overwhelmingly defeated by Republican incumbents. This result provides further evidence of the disconnect between party activists and Republican voters.
The Way Forward
Party officials who clearly abandoned the principle of neutrality, like Hildreth, need to resign. The damage done to party reputation and public trust is enough reason for resignation or removal, even if she didn't technically violate the weak endorsement bylaw. Unless citizens trust the local party and officers to keep their fingers off the scales in primary elections, we can't expect a growing party or increased community engagement. The party needs transformative leadership to grow in the coming years. Expanding the party is impossible if the party leadership alienates 50%+ of the party faithful with bias and unfair influence in primary campaigns.
The disconnect between Republican activists and Republican voters is a harder problem to fix. In order for the party to succeed and function, it needs activists, but what should be done if the activists oppose what the majority of Republican voters want? Since we have completely dissolved any respect for President Reagan's 11th commandment (Don't speak ill of fellow Republicans), I think we should return to one of his other maxims.
We should remember that our 80 percent friend is not our 20 percent enemy.
Sadly, that alone will not calm our politics. Nor will party bylaw changes or meaningless reprimands or censures. Fortunately, a policy solution exists. It is time for Georgia to implement ranked choice voting, much like the new Alaska system. It would save the state millions, cool the passion in our politics, and receive widespread bipartisan support from voters. See the video below to find out how the Alaska system works.