Guns, God and good old-fashioned politics
My day at the Georgia GOP convention
By PATRICK SAUNDERS
Back in the first week of April, I read that the Georgia GOP convention was taking place in Athens the following month. So I found the press contact, emailed him for credentials and waited to hear back, not sure I would get in. Georgia Voice hasn’t held back from reporting on the various questionable deeds and actions the party has taken against the LGBT community, but it’s not like we’ve laid off on the other side either.
Before long, lo and behold, I received confirmation that I could attend.
I was excited to take part, because Georgia’s Republican Party is a party at a crossroads. Marriage equality is not an “if ” but a “when,” as soon as within a few weeks if the experts are right on their U.S. Supreme Court predictions. Transgender issues have blasted forward into the mainstream, thanks, lately, to celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, but those are tracks laid down by countless trans activists before them, many of whom aren’t here to talk about it.
Everyone’s seen the polls about the attitudes of younger generations toward LGBT issues, and they just don’t mesh with those of older generations, especially older Republicans.
So what does Georgia’s Republican Party look like in 2015 as it gathers for its signature event?
Down the rabbit hole
As I entered the Classic Center, I found my way to the media table and got my credentials, then descended a long escalator and arrived on the ground floor. More and more people jammed in around me as I came to a long hallway packed with tables on both sides, and that’s when I knew I had officially gone down the rabbit hole.
Hey, there’s the Ben Carson table! Sure, he’s compared homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, but look at that smile.
And then there’s a table of buttons! Who doesn’t like a button? Unless of course you saw these particular buttons and you’re LGBT, a Democrat, pro-choice or a welfare recipient. And I wondered what the women in attendance thought about the “KFC Hillary Special: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts ... Left Wing” button.
Suppressing the urge to buy the pink “Proud Republican Woman” button, I moved on.
Speaking of women, there was a table for Maggie’s List, an organization whose goal is to elect fiscally conservative women to Congress. An “Empowering Women to Empower Our Nation” sign was proudly displayed. And seated at the table was: no one. I’ll leave the significance of this fact to others to decide.
I ran into a friendly face at one table, a gay Republican I will not name, who laughed as he exclaimed, “What the hell are YOU doing here?” Gay Republicans are lightning rods within the LGBT community, just as they are lightning rods within the Republican Party. But I know many gay people whose allegiance to the Democratic Party hinges mostly on the marriage equality issue. What will happen once that barrier is broken? Will we see a wave of gay people gingerly stepping across party lines? And what will the fringe element of the GOP make of them?
The Faith & Freedom Coalition had a table manned by someone I later learned to be Robert Potts, executive director of the Georgia chapter, which led to this entertaining exchange: Me: “Hey, how are you today?” An extremely chipper Potts: “I’m great! Opinions abounded on a number of topics at the Georgia Republican Convention held May 15–16 in Athens. (Photo by Patrick Saunders) Who are you with?” Me: “Georgia Voice.” Potts, smile dropping: “Oh.” Following uncomfortable small talk, I moved on to guns. Big freaking guns. A table full of them. They were there courtesy of a local gun shop, and to be honest, I didn’t get as up in arms (heh) about this as many people on Facebook do. At least the gun owners know their audience.
Coming face-to-face with an old reality
Entering the convention hall itself, it became clear to me how boring political conventions are. You should never expect many fireworks, save for the occasional catchy line or policy change that typically accounts for about five percent of one’s overall time there. It’s less “hurry up and wait” and more “shift uncomfortably in your seat every 10 minutes so your ass doesn’t go numb and then wait some more.”
This applies to any convention or committee hearing, no matter the political party. This is bipartisan ass-shifting! But every now and then you do get a glimpse of the democratic process at work and learn to appreciate it.
Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio’s speech got the crowd humming, and those who ventured into the lobby afterward were greeted by none other than Sen. Ted Cruz, who was moving through the lobby and shaking hands.
It’s an interesting experience coming faceto-face with the people whose opinions and voting records go so far against your values and wishes to live your life the way you want to live it, without any favors or shortcuts, just your desire to be on equal footing with everyone else who is blessed with the capacity to love.
But I remain on the sidelines, wading into whatever situation I can get myself into to observe and report and let others decide what to make of it.
June 12, 2015