Saturday morning, the Newton County Republican Party was divided by yellow caution tape, but by evening, they had formed two separate, rival groups, both claiming to represent the GOP.
The tape usually reserved for crime scenes and accidents was erected to separate voting delegates from members of the party who had not qualified to participate in the county convention under local bylaws.
Those bylaws are now being challenged by members who paid their dues but were informed by letter that they had not accumulated enough points to be considered a “member in good standing,” and thus were ineligible to vote for the new executive board.
Those excluded from the process included the current mayor of Covington and two former party chairs, said those in attendance.
Newly elected Newton County GOP Chairman Bill Perugino said the county’s point system has been in the bylaws for years, and has been reviewed at the district and state level.
“There is a lot of noise right now that the Newton County bylaws are in conflict with the state rules,” Perugino said. “That is not true. Our rules have bene vetted with the state party.”
Shortly after proceedings began Saturday, party member Aaron Brooks made a motion challenging the credentials of the voting delegates. After a heated exchange between then-chair Delia Fleming and the opposing faction, who maintain she ignored the motion, some 60 delegates and members walked out.
They convened at the Hampton Inn, where they held a separate meeting. Brooks characterized the point system as deliberately exclusionary and contrary to the Call, a fundamental Georgia Republican Party principle of inclusion. His group was preparing to appeal it with the party’s district leadership.
He and others anticipate the matter will advance to the state level, because the newly elected county chair, Bill Perugino, is also the district leader. The Hampton Inn contingent maintains this represents a conflict of interest.
Perugino was elected to chair the committee with Todd Bowen as first vice chair, Ester Fleming second vice chair, and Linda Park third vice chair. Vicki Henry was elected secretary treasurer.
Perugino said the party had considered reducing the number of points necessary to vote before the election cycle, but were told they had to remain consistent.
“We’re just going to follow normal course of business going forward with following the principles of the Republican party and working out the best way to include as much of the citizenry of the county as possible,” said Perugino. “In accordance with the rules, there were certain people qualified as delegates today and certain were not.”
“We would like to motivate the base so that we activate our voters to participate in the democratic process and vote,” he added.
But some new members say they have been prevented from participating, alleging that the local party is run by a closed circle intend on consolidating power.
“They don’t want to listen to anyone else’s input,” said Marvin Maner, who was motivated to become active in the party after witnessing the county go blue in the last three federal elections. “They have their own little clique.”
Maner said that when he first showed up for a meeting, he was greeted with suspicion and asked who had “sent” him.
“I think that was totally out of line,” he said of the incident.
Jason Pye, another dissenting republican, insisted the disagreement was “not a policy rift,” but added that the younger generations “do have different views.” He also criticized the party for failing to appeal to minorities and millennials.