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Pickens GOP will screen candidates for local offices

Interviews to be held Jan. 20

            If you are planning to run for local office as a Republican, you will be required to go through a vetting process and be approved by the Pickens GOP before your name will be added to the Republican ballot.

            Pickens County Republican Chair Christopher Mora said the goal is to ensure that candidates who say they are Republican actually are Republican, and that they will lead with conservative values. The move is an effort to correct what members of the party say has historically been a problem in counties like Pickens that are overwhelmingly red, where non-Republican candidates run as Republicans to win votes.

            No Democrat running on a party ticket has won a county office in decades, if ever, here. Before the 1990s almost all local office-seekers ran as Independents in Pickens County.

            “In this county you can’t get elected unless you are a Republican,” Mora said. “All people have had to do in the past is sign a one-sentence oath and leave a check, and they could run on the ticket.” 

            The local party’s new vetting process will be a more involved interview that takes around 10 minutes. Potential candidates will be asked basic questions based on state GOP principals, which are outlined on the Georgia GOP’s website.

            “This is not a hammer session,”  said Mora, adding that the process makes sense as a way to strengthen the party’s values and the party as a whole.

            In-person interviews for local candidates will be held Saturday, Jan. 20 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Pickens County Recreation Center, 1329 Camp Road, Jasper. Potential candidates will be evaluated by a 32-person “exclusive body” of the Pickens County Republican Party, which includes the executive committee, 12 precinct chairmen, and secretaries. Candidates’ voting records will also be reviewed for the last six years.

            The bylaws that gave power for this exclusive body to approve candidates were enacted Sept. 25, 2023. They were passed by the local party unanimously.

            Mora believes the vetting process is a reasonable way to ensure they endorse candidates with Republican values.

            “If we can’t vet our own candidates why even have a party?” he said.

            But the local vetting measure has not yet gained traction in the state. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution recently reported that only Pickens and Chattooga of Georgia’s 159 counties have adopted the process that gives party leaders power to approve candidates. 

            Critics of the measure argue the new rules put power in the hands of party leaders to decide who is Republican enough to run. They argue it could keep candidates off the ballot if they are not in line with a certain flavor of Republican values or conservative enough, and that if the committee wants to they could keep a certain candidate out of office.

            Mora said the vetting process isn’t entirely new for the local party, but that it has changed some from what it was in the past, prior to a debacle in the Pickens Republican Party in 2019. Elections from the Pickens GOP’s convention in March 2019 were thrown out by the 9th District GOP after it was determined the meeting did not follow proper procedure. Leaders from the 9th and 14th Districts ran a second meeting for the local party, and Mora said their old bylaws – which included a form of a vetting process – were stripped and they were given “the most generic bylaws possible” that did not include those powers.

            The old bylaws, Mora said, gave power to the first vice chair and a smaller committee of three to five people who would determine who qualified to appear on the ballot. Concerns about small numbers of people deciding who is Republican enough to run – and what the definition of a Republican is – are why the local GOP chose to have a 32-person committee and “not a small group of people” decide if a candidate will be accepted.

            “We want as many people as part of the process as possible,” he said.

            In Chattooga County there has been backlash about the GOP’s new policy, which gives power to a smaller five-person committee to vet candidates than Pickens’ 32-person committee. The AJC article states that some critics in Chattooga “say the system disenfranchises primary voters who often decide the victors in heavily Republican counties,” and cites one critic who recently announced he will run against the county’s sole commissioner. The candidate “calls himself a ‘true conservative Republican’ but said he fears he’ll be disqualified by party leaders who want to protect [the sole commissioner] and other incumbents,” the AJC states.

            But Mora says their only goal is to keep Democrats, Independents, or other party-supporters from disingenuously running as Republicans. In her support of the vetting process, the Chattooga County GOP Chair Jennifer Tudor told the AJC, “Should we be forced to accept a candidate who claims to be Republican but supports abortion, gun control, big government and high taxes?…Deceptive politicians should not be allowed to take advantage of poor, low information voters.”

            Mora said he does not understand the backlash, which has apparently trickled into Pickens County on some  level after the party announced the new rule in recent public ads.

            “I don’t know why people are scared of it,” he said. “It does not stop people from running for office.” The local GOP wants to be sure people running as Republicans “are actually conservatives.” Mora told the AJC, candidates who are not approved by the local Republican Party can still run as Democrats or Independents.

            For questions or concerns potential candidates can contact the Pickens County Republican Party at 706-751-9965 or email chair@pickensgop.org.

            Pickens County Republican Party’s Executive Committee is: Christopher Mora, chair; Carolyn Childers, first vice chair; Kimberly Bunker, treasurer; Judy Harvey, vice chair of membership; Christina Joiner, vice chair of fundraising; David Oles, vice chair of communications and parliamentarian; Casandra Dean, vice chair of programs; Jim Burke, vice chair of precinct development; Laurence MacNeill, correspondence secretary; Norma Niehoff-Emerson, recording secretary.

            Learn more about the Pickens GOP at pickensgop.com.

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