The only 12 voters in the room devoid of a “Vote Brewster” sticker, stood alone for the eighth and final time, once again defeated by the tense stares of the seated majority.
This minority group was scattered among the precinct delegates at the annual Clarke County Republican Convention held on March 9th at the Foundry Inn. They call themselves the the Conservative GOP of Clarke (CGOPOC) and formed after the delegate fraud that occurred in last year’s convention. They are a political action committee committed to replacing the current leadership of the GOP with people who they feel follow strict Republican guidelines. After an entire year of campaigning and reaching out to the media, however, they were once again unsuccessful in obtaining a leadership role.
During the election process of the convention, each candidate had two minutes to convey their qualifications for the position to the public. Most did not take up the whole time slot. Bill Griffin, a CGOPOC supporter who ran for chairman, was a clear exception. With a stern face he gave his blunt opinion about the current GOP leadership, while most of the audience stared down at their feet.
“There’s no easy way to say this, last year’s convention was an embarrassment,” Griffin said during his two-minute ramble. “None of our county delegates were selected at the state convention because the convention was so defective. I submit that we need to change the leadership. I am willing to serve as the chairman.”
His mention of the embarrassing convention referred to the illegal election of the county delegates that occurred last year. Matt Brewster, the county chairman, and John Elliot, the nominating committee chair, disregarded the blatant shouts for a “division”, which is a call for a recount of votes. The meeting was ended improperly and those ignored bombarded the chairman and John Padgett, the Secretary of Georgia State Republican Party, with accusations of fraud. The CGOPOC filmed the fiasco and created a YouTube video that they broadcasted on their website and multiple media sources.
In May 2012 at the Georgia GOP convention, BJ Van Gundy, the chairman of the credentials committee, announced that no delegates would represent Clarke County due to the fact that they were elected illegally.
This year’s county convention was procedural and accurate. The CGOPOC made sure of that. Convention Chairman Bill Bushnell explained each step of the election process multiple times before he allowed any votes to be casted. Although the process seemed elementary to many, Bill Griffin and other CGOPOC supporters stood up various times during the convention to initiate a clarification of the rules.
“Mr. Chairman? Bill Griffin 6B, I understand each candidate gets to speak for one minute, correct?”
“Mr. Chairman? Bill Griffin 6B, question of privilege, the body deserves to hear the name of the person speaking.”
“Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman? Bill Griffin 6B, can you please clarify what we are voting on?”
Lori Bone, another CGOPOC supporter who ran for secretary, challenged the credentials of one of the county delegate alternates, Chelsea Magee, stating that she did not currently live in Clarke County. Bone proposed that she be put in Magee’s place.
With that, bustle of side comments spread between the seats.
“The rhetorical comments are a violation of the rules,” Convention Chairman Bushnell demanded.
Even after all of the commotion and credential confusion, Bone was once again shut down and did not receive the seat as a county delegate alternate.
Although candidates from both sides spoke on the importance of party unification, there was a clear split from the very beginning of this year’s convention. Each side convened in separate rooms before Chairman Matt Brewster called the meeting to order.
Eyes darted to the CGOPOC pack as they entered the convention room.
There were three levels of the election: county party officials, district delegates and alternates, and state delegates and alternates. The CGOPOC challenged the nominated candidates in all three levels. When votes were taken, the same 10 to 12 people stood in the PAC’s favor among a estimated crowd of 40-50 voters. As a result, the floor passed every original ballot of the nominating committee, despite the efforts of the minority group.
The meeting closed with little public drama. Although internal disappointment still fumed.
In separate interviews held a few days after the convention, Matt Brewster and Bill Griffin revealed their own opinions of the future of the Clarke County GOP; opinions that are on two different spectrums.
When asked if he felt at all threatened by the CGOPOC, Chairman Brewster was quick to deny the continuation of any such group efforts.
“That’s all over,” Brewster said. “Some people would have assumed that the party was split but when it was all said and done it was just a very small minority group that was very loud. They ran TV ads, newspaper ads, and radio ads. A lot of people didn’t care for their message because it was on the negative side.”
Brewster said that he is confident in the direction of the party and that the GOP has already reached out to many of the CGOPOC supporters to try and work with them in the future.
The reaction from Bill Griffin could not have been more opposite.
“If [Brewster] is under the impression that many people have forgotten about that, he’s just delusional. The video speaks for itself,” Griffin proclaimed.
He continued to rant about the lack of advertising from the GOP for the county convention. Only a small blurb was posted in the Athens Banner Harold 15 days prior to the meeting, which is the minimal requirement based on party rules.
“They don’t want people there,” Griffin said. “They say everything is good because, yeah, everything is good for them while they have their power.”
Griffin has chosen to remove himself from the republican politics of Clarke County for the time being.
“I can’t by conscience give my money, time and energy to the county party with the leadership in place and I couldn’t advice anyone else to.”