A “Ray” of Light Shines from the Federal Court

U.S. Federal District Court Judge Billy Ray asked a simple question to Georgia Republican Assembly President Alex Johnson, the one time Ron Paul activist who, along with the GRA group he leads, and the Catoosa County Republican Party who he represents in court, has taken it upon himself to be the final authority to the question, “Who is a Republican?”

Ray asked Johnson if he agreed with the following statement: “Voters really decide who is a Republican on election day.”

Judge Ray is no stranger to partisan politics. By the time President Donald Trump elevated Ray to the federal bench in 2018, Ray had already served on the Georgia Court of Appeals, the Gwinnett County Superior Court, as a Republican Senator in the Georgia General Assembly, and as Chairman of the Gwinnett County Republican Party…a fact he reminded Johnson and the plaintiffs, the leadership of the Catoosa County Republican Party, during a hearing held on the morning of Wednesday, April 17, as Johnson and his party appeared before him, asking the court to remove several Republican candidates from the May 21 primary ballot as they have been deemed by the plaintiffs to not be Republican enough.

As previously noted, Johnson and his co-counsel, Catherine Bernard, brought their case to federal court as appeals are pending in the case filed by the above mentioned four Republican candidates, three of whom are incumbents, already elected by Republican voters in Catoosa County against the Catoosa County Republican Party and its leadership for refusing to qualify the candidates for the Republican Primary ballot. That fact was also not lost in the courtroom Wednesday as the AJC reported, “Ray seemed amenable to arguments from Christopher Harris, an attorney for the local election board, who said the federal judge should abstain from the case because two other state court proceedings involving the same issues are still pending.”

While we wait for Ray’s ruling (though contacts who were in the courtroom have reported we shouldn’t expect a ruling any time soon) on the requested injunction which will likely hinge on the question as to whether the dispute is even ripe for federal intervention, the hearing continues to provide insight into the justifications Johnson and the GRA are using to bolster their justification for taking the decision from Republican Primary voters and putting it in the hands of a few party officers, and it’s one of the oldest justifications used by tyrants throughout history…they are doing so for the good of the people.

As Catoosa GOP Chair Joanna Hildreth puts it, “Too often, voters are rightfully disappointed by candidates who run with ‘Republican’ by their name only to abandon the platform once elected, if they ever really supported it to begin with.”

In other words, Hildreth and Johnson are doing this for the good of the people who are so often “disappointed” by candidates. Rather than recruit and run BETTER candidates, giving voters more choices, they instead are using their perceived political power as party leaders to eliminate political opposition. Authoritarian regimes have always used the justification that the people must be protected from themselves to justify the elimination of choices, often down to a single party which then receives 100% of the vote, a idea wholly foreign to our free and pluralistic system and in direct opposition to the Republican value of “rugged individualism.”

C.S. Lewis addressed this idea in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, a collection of Lewis’s essays published after his death, “My contention is that good men (not bad men) consistently acting upon that position [imposing “the good”] would act as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants. They might in some respects act even worse. Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

I wouldn’t doubt that Hildreth and the rest of the Catoosa and GRA leadership truly believe they are saving us from ourselves, believing their knowledge and expertise places them in a position of responsibility and gives them a moral duty to act for those voters with less knowledge, and who, they believe, are easily manipulated by the cunning tactics of slick campaign consultants and their advertising schemes. Therefore, they, as members and leaders of the Catoosa County Republican Party, and with full reliance of the approval of their own conscience, they are duty bound to strike from the Republican ballot all those who do not conform to their own narrow view of Republicanism. However, their views are not Republican views, but Libertarian views, advocated by the one time head of the Libertarian Party, Ron Paul, and preached by his disciples like Alex Johnson and Catherine Bernard.

While Libertarians may be the kissing cousins of the Republican Party, they (and their platform) do stand both separate and in opposition to the GOP and its candidates. The irony of Johnson’s and the GRA’s position on this issue may very well be that, if they succeed, it will be the GOP purging libertarian leaning candidates from the GOP ranks. Bernard herself has once again filed to run as a Republican State Representative, despite the fact that in the last Presidential election, Bernard spoke at rallies for Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen. Jorgensen received 62,229 votes in Georgia, more than enough votes for Trump to have won the state if the Libertarian hadn’t played the party of “spoiler.” So, if the Republican Party suddenly is able to deny ballot access to candidates who are not “Republican enough,” surely Bernard would be at the top of the list.

But, as was echoed in the courtroom in Rome yesterday, shouldn’t the voters decide on election day who is Republican?

I tackled that question as recently as my previous post, stating, “By Party Rules, the members of the Georgia Republican Party are simply Republican voters (defined in the Rules as ‘electors’ based on the term used in State Law). If Party rules are not controlling here for the definition, then the answer to the question, ‘Who are the members of the Republican Party?’ is the much broader group of people, those who, at the time of the primary election, request a Republican Party ballot.”

It is clear Alex Johnson believes his law partner Catherine Bernard is a Republican, but would Republican voters? In 2008 and again in 2012, Georgia Republican Presidential Preference Primary voters rejected Ron Paul. In both years, Ron Paul activists tried to take over Georgia Republican Party county and District conventions to elect themselves rather than the grassroots party regulars (labeled “The Establishment”) as delegates to the Republican National Convention where they would nominate Ron Paul for President, overriding the decision of the voters.

The plots did not pan out in Georgia (or anywhere else) and McCain’s 2008 nomination (and Romney’s in 2012) was made without disruption, their nominations reflecting the votes of the majority Republican Primary voters (for the record, I voted for Huckabee in 2008 and Gingrich in 2012).

In the years after Ron Paul’s rejection, his disciples, like Alex Johnson and Catherine Bernard, have sought the validation that their candidate did not receive. Bernard has run for the state house in 2014, 2015 (special election), 2016, 2022, and now, 2024. She has yet to win a contested Republican Primary.

Alex Johnson, after an uninspiring tenure as Chair of the DeKalb County Young Republicans, decided to parlay his lackluster YR experience into races for State Party Chair, with the backing of the old Ron Paul grassroots network. In 2013, 2015, and 2017, Alex Johnson tried, and failed, to become the head of the Georgia Republican Party, but, along the way, hobbled together a coalition of libertarians, John Birchers, the extreme religious right (like Nathaniel Darnell and Brant Frost V), and, eventually after 2016, MAGA, as well as a handful of longtime party regulars who had positioned themselves on the outskirts of the GOP to rebrand a mostly defunct Georgia Republican Assembly in their image…to be the Republican wing of the Republican Party.

But, if the Republican Party is defined by conservatism, not libertarianism, then there is truly nothing traditionally “Republican” about the GRA. The GRA believes it is leading a revolution in the Georgia Republican Party, a continuation of Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 “revolutions.”

But, the writing is on the wall for the GRA. Should their “revolution” succeed, that they win their day in court, taking the power to decide “who is a Republican” out of the hands of the voters and placing it in the hands of small groups of GOP leaders, than sooner, rather than later, they themselves will be devoured by it, as tends to happen to most revolutionaries throughout history.

Ironically, it will be jurists, like Judge Ray, upholding the law, who will end up saving these omnipotent moral busybodies from themselves, unless, the very voters who they sought to protect rise up at the next precinct caucus, and make the determination that the leadership of the Catoosa GOP are the ones who, by their disdain for allowing Republican voters a choice, that Joanna Hildreth and the rest of the officers are the ones who rightfully disappointed Republican voters, claiming “Republican” by their name only to abandon the platform once elected, if they ever really supported it to begin with.

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