Controversial rules change nixed at raucous Cobb GOP meeting

·6 min read

Jan. 29—MARIETTA — Organizations allied with the Cobb County Republican Party will remain on its exclusive leadership committee, after their removal was voted down at a raucous Thursday night meeting at the party's headquarters.

The party's rules committee had proposed removing four people from the party's executive committee, including the leaders of the Cobb County Republican Women's Club and the Cobb Young Republicans. The changes would have added to the executive committee the chairs of the party's sub-committees. Taken together, they prompted criticism that the party's recently-elected leaders were attempting to oust dissenting voices and consolidate power.

Those changes failed Thursday to secure the two-thirds majority necessary to pass, though other proposed changes — one giving the executive committee more spending power, and the other making it more difficult to pass resolutions, an often contentious process — were successful.

As members debated the merits of removing allied organizations from the executive committee, party stalwarts Scott Johnson, a former Cobb GOP chairman, and Sue Everhart, a former Georgia GOP chairwoman, made impassioned pleas to nix the proposal. A party that had long struggled to diversify its base could only suffer if it were to remove organizations representing county women and youth from its leadership council, they said. (The change would have also removed the heads of the College Republican Club and the Cobb County Black Republican Council, though some at Thursday's meeting noted the latter appeared to be defunct.)

"Our party struggles to get votes of young people, Black people, minorities, Hispanics and women," Johnson said. "We have a bunch of wonderful women in this room, but we struggle to get their votes, and we struggled in 2020, and we struggled in 2018. Is this ... an action we want to represent our party? I say no, and I hope you agree."

Everhart said the change would create a gulf between those organizations and the Cobb GOP.

"If those (organizations) decide that no, hell no, we are not going to do anything for the Republican Party in Cobb ... then we're really going to lose," Everhart said. "This is not inclusive."

On Friday, Everhart expanded on those comments. She said trying to push affiliated groups off the Cobb GOP's executive committee, "was just the thing that causes them to go out and in their own way do what they want to do instead of doing what the party needs done, and it's going to cause a Democrat to beat the heck out of us."

It does not help elect Republicans, Everhart said.

"It causes the Democrats to get out and have a talking point that the Republican Party is wandering in the wilderness."

As for Cobb GOP Chairwoman Salleigh Grubbs, who supported the proposed changes, "She needs to think before she does things. She's listening to the wrong people is what's she's doing," Everhart said.

Before the meeting, DeAnna Harris, who heads the Cobb Young Republicans, said the changes amount to "consolidation of power and removing transparency," and said she believes they are retaliation for her speaking forcefully against the resolution to censure Gov. Brian Kemp last September.

At the top of the meeting, Donna Rowe, chair of the rules committee, which had crafted the proposed changes, acknowledged "some of the chatter I have been seeing on the internet and in the press."

"The rules committee was not told by any of the elected officers to exclude anyone or to develop a power play," she said. "Not one of them mentioned anything like that to us. So, if you've heard that or you've seen that or you read that, that is false."

The changes were a simple matter of bringing the county party in line with the state party, which does not allow allied organizations on its executive committee, Rowe continued.

That line of thinking is flawed, according to Johnson: allied organizations were members of the state's executive committee until Congress passed the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002. That law, he said, has no bearing on county-level organizations.

Others argued for the change. Nathaniel Darnell, chairman of the Cobb County Republican Assembly, pointed out that Harris and Nancy Couch, head of the Cobb County Republican Women's Club, were at the night's meeting.

"You're not being excluded, unless you want to say that the Cobb (Republican Assembly is) being excluded," he said, referring to another allied organization within the county. Its leadership does not sit on the Cobb GOP's executive committee. "And they're the biggest advocates for Republican principles," Darnell continued, referring to the Cobb RA. "Do you have something against Republican principles? Do you not believe in pro-life, do you not believe in gun rights, do you not believe in limited taxes?"

OTHER BUSINESS

Another change that had also prompted criticism passed overwhelmingly Thursday. Going forward, the executive committee will more control over party spending.

Non-budgeted expenditures over $5,000 will now require approval from the executive committee or the county committee. Previously, expenditures over $3,000 required approval, which could only be granted by the county committee.

Critics said the change would give the executive committee too much power over spending.

"There may be nothing wrong with this administration," Jason Shepherd, former Cobb GOP chairman, said in an interview earlier this week, but "what about the next (administration)? What about the next (after that)? ... We've had chairs in Cobb County who were not exactly above-board."

Rowe said the changes would allow the party to move nimbly in the event of an emergency, given the challenge of convening the entire 200-member county committee. It would also offset the impact of inflation, which hit a multi-decade high last year.

The party also passed, by an overwhelming margin, a change that would make it more difficult to pass resolutions.

That change will prevent the "kerfuffle" that arose last fall, when Michael Opitz, chair of the party's resolutions committee, proposed censuring Gov. Brian Kemp at a September meeting, Grubbs explained.

Opitz did not give the county committee advance notice he would be introducing the resolution, and copies were not available at the meeting, according to members who attended. The resolution was read aloud and passed by a simple majority that night, angering some who wished they had had time to consider it before a vote.

"We felt like it's only fair that people have it in writing, they have the opportunity to read it, and that we have an opportunity to (give) a heads up before it's presented to the committee," Grubbs said.