A rule being proposed at the Georgia Republican Party state convention this weekend would allow the convention delegates to strip some statewide candidates from running for office as a Republican.
Though critics say the rule would take power from the voters, supporters say it would give state party delegates leverage over candidates who don't follow the party's values and platform.
Atlanta attorney Alex Johnson, who'll be proposing the rule at the convention in Columbus, Georgia, was introduced by Joanna Hildreth, chairwoman of the Catoosa County Republican Party and secretary of the Georgia Republican Assembly, at a town hall meeting about what's being called the Accountability Rule in Walker County last week.
"So many of you get really frustrated sometimes," Hildreth said at the town hall. "As a chair, I've had many people come up to me. Somebody who is here tonight came up to me a week ago and said, 'What can we do about these people who run as Republican and do not represent our values and do not represent our platform?'"
Republican convention delegates are elected at county conventions in each of Georgia's 159 counties and total about 2,000, Johnson said. A Republican who is not holding to the party's values — which Johnson described as promoting individual responsibility, lower taxes, gun rights and anti-abortion policies — could be stripped of their ability to run as a Republican by a simple majority vote of the state delegates.
The Georgia Republican Assembly is an organization that holds elected officials accountable for supporting conservative values, Johnson said. He serves as president of the organization.
That disqualified candidate could still run as an independent or a Democrat, Johnson said, but would remain disqualified until the state convention votes to reinstate them.
"It really does give the delegates, the most informed, strongest activists in the state, the ones who are involved in the local communities, who aren't going to be as easily swayed by millions of dollars of advertisements," the ability make the selection, Johnson said in a recent online town hall posted on YouTube. "If somebody is not upholding Republican principles, they no longer get to be an albatross dragging down our brand."
He said the rule doesn't affect county-level candidates but added he thinks county Republican delegates already have the power to disqualify candidates. No specific candidates were mentioned as targets at the town hall or online meetings, and Johnson could not be reached by phone or text for follow-up questions.
The proposed Accountability Rule would have to pass the state convention's rules committee and be approved by a majority of the convention before it took effect.
State Rep. Mike Cameron, R-Rossville, said he was against the Accountability Rule.
"We have elections for accountability," Cameron said by phone. "We have a very small group of people with the GRA that want to determine who's a Republican, who's not a Republican. I'm for letting people decide that in an election."
Cameron said he is running to defend his seat next election, and he won't let anyone stop him.
James Abely, a participant in the online Georgia Assembly town hall, said the proposal is moving too fast and isn't well understood by party members. He also said he was concerned that what he called "the uniparty" would flip the rule around and use it to keep certain people out of office.
Responding to concerns that the Accountability Rule could be used abused, Johnson cited the Catoosa County Republican convention, where he said there was an attempt by what he called establishment Republicans to take over party leadership. The attempt was called off, he said, when the challengers realized they didn't have the votes to win.
"Ultimately, when good people are involved and can organize, they're outnumbered — the cabal is outnumbered," Johnson said. "It's just a matter of: We need good people involved doing things."
There is a lot of momentum among activists in Georgia, and now is the time to take action, Johnson said.
Grassroots conservative movements like the Tea Party and those led by the late religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul got voters "riled up," he said, adding the establishment waits out the activists who go away if nothing gets accomplished.
Criticism and resolutions from the party are usually ignored by elected officials, but the proposed rule would give more power to the county-level advocates and encourage more people to get involved, Johnson said.
Establishment Republicans could try to take over the delegate elections, but Nathaniel Darnell, a Georgia Assembly official who co-hosted the online town hall, said it would be expensive and difficult to organize across 159 counties. He also said a takeover would require a lot of grassroots Republicans to be ignorant to the coordinated takeover effort.
Anyone who runs for office signs a pledge to the party, state Sen. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, said in a phone call, so if the party wants leverage to make sure elected officials keep that agreement — the delegates can make that decision.
Endorsed by the Georgia Assembly for his conservative positions in his Senate race, Moore said he wasn't worried about being disqualified.
In principle, the rule sounds good, Moore said, but he also pointed out how difficult it is to run as an independent candidate. The rule change would give the party a lot of power, he said, like in the past when the convention chose candidates for office.
Mike Crane, a former state senator from Coweta County, said in the town hall that he was concerned the bar for removal was too low. He said he thinks disqualification should be a two-thirds majority vote of the convention rather than a simple majority.
Crane said the rule wouldn't defend against new establishment-backed candidates, but would only punish candidates who have tarnished the brand.
Johnson said corrupt candidates will always find ways to buy themselves into office, but if they stab the party in the back, they could be disqualified if the Accountability Rule passes.