As I was in the middle of my race for House District 147 in Houston County, Scot approached me about writing for the Peach Pundit. He wanted the perspective of someone who had made the leap from Republican Party activist to elected official. I told him I was a little busy just then, but I would love to write something when I had time, if I won. On November 8, I won my race and have spent the last several weeks writing thank you notes and literally getting my house back in order.
I come from a long line of Republicans. We were Republicans in the South when it wasn’t cool, and my mom swears that my great-grandparents were the last people in their county to get a paved road because of their political views. I’m a Gen X Reagan kid who was raised on Rush Limbaugh thanks to my dad who just wanted the government to leave him alone. About a decade ago, a friend dragged me to a Middle Georgia Republican Women Christmas party, and I went just to shut her up. The next thing I knew I was 2nd Vice Chair of the Houston County GOP, and to this day I’m still not quite sure how that happened.
In 2019 I was elected chairwoman of the 8th Congressional District. Absolutely no meaningful job description exists for district chairs, especially not for one who oversees 24 counties (now 29 after reapportionment) in a district that stretches from Macon to the Florida line, so I was able to make the job my own. I loved working with our elected officials and Congressman Austin Scott, and I met and worked with some truly wonderful, hardworking activists during this time. I also met some people who I don’t care to meet again, but those were few and far between. I helped run the 8th District Fish Fry and instituted training programs for the county chairs in member recruitment, precinct chair organization, voter engagement, etc. I phone banked and knocked doors and did all the activist things, and I’d like to think I left the 8th District better than I found it.
Unfortunately, I saw firsthand the divide emerging between many of our activists and the Republican elected officials. I spent a lot of my time fighting this trend and trying to bridge the divide because we are all on the red team. I was also Representative Heath Clark’s campaign manager and legislative aide during this time and was busy starting up my own local campaign consulting company, so I was acutely aware of how hard most of our General Assembly members work and in how many different directions they are pulled. When members are sworn in, they must represent all 60,000 people in their district, not just the 30 people who show up to a county GOP meeting on a Saturday morning. Schedules are full all the time, and it’s hard to juggle the demands of family, work, and public service.
When Representative Clark decided to retire and return to private life, I decided to run for his seat. I honestly didn’t want to run at first. I liked my life as it was, thanks very much. I liked being behind the scenes, and I was pretty good at organizing the lives of my clients. However, several people who I respect in Republican political circles kept calling, texting, cornering me at church, and urging me to run. So I took the plunge and immediately began to drown. I have often heard of “blind panic;” however, I never stopped to consider that it was real. It is. I had so much anxiety that all I could see was white light, and all I could hear was a ringing in my ears like a tuning fork. I called a friend who is a political consultant and told him that I had gone crazy and was running for office. He sent me a campaign organization checklist to get me started. When I could calm down enough to read the words on the screen, I realized that this was pretty much the same checklist I had just sent to two clients to get them started on their races for local office. I literally didn’t remember that I had such a document in my possession. Blind. Panic.
I guess my point is that it’s safe to be a GOP activist. Sure, you walk miles knocking doors, and you call complete strangers on the phone to get them to vote, but really you’re a step removed from the situation. You’re a spokesperson. If an elected official screws up or just doesn’t meet your idea of conservative perfection, you can quit volunteering for them. You can “hold their feet to the fire” as we like to say in activist circles.
When you become the candidate, it’s terrifyingly personal. Any screw up you make can become public, your kids’ pictures are on mailers sent to every voter in your district, your spouse gets dragged into a life he wouldn’t have chosen for himself, and you are exhausted in a way that you didn’t know existed. And then, all of a sudden, you realize you know nothing about all the issues you were so sure about when you were an activist. The world isn’t black and white. There are multiple sides and viewpoints to every issue, because real people are involved, and frequently there is more than one answer that fits the definition of “conservative policy.” You begin to realize that every decision you will have to make if you are elected will affect the climate of your community, and the lives of its citizens, both economically and culturally. It’s daunting, and it’s humbling, and you very quickly learn to listen more than you talk. I am a different, and hopefully better, person on the other side of this race, and I look forward to serving the people of Middle Georgia.
I’m excited about writing for the Peach Pundit about my experiences as a freshman legislator. We’ve already had freshman orientation and leadership elections. And sadly, we mourned and said good-bye to Speaker David Ralston who was one of my biggest cheerleaders. My calendar is filled with invitations from more community groups than I even knew existed in Houston County. I don’t know how much time I’ll have to write during the legislative session, but I’m glad to be able to take you on this journey with me.