Fixing the Rift

The new chairman of the Georgia Republican Party is a friend of mine. That’s proof enough he’s capable of mending fences.

Brian RobinsonWhen I first became aware of Josh McKoon, he was running unopposed for a Columbus area state Senate seat while my boss, Nathan Deal, was campaigning for governor. McKoon worked hard for our opponent in the primary, and once we won the general election, he never had a close relationship with the administration, seemingly always stirring up trouble from our right flank as we focused like a laser on tugging Georgia out of the Great Recession.

McKoon championed religious liberty legislation opposed by the business community, who feared economic boycotts. It put Gov. Deal in an awkward spot, and after I moved to the private sector early in Deal’s second term, I challenged McKoon to debate the issue on radio. I got a little heated while McKoon calmly presented his case. My dad, a retired minister, listened. He gently let me know that I came across as a jerk.

Chastened, I privately apologized. McKoon responded in time by asking if I would work for his campaign for secretary of state. I wasn’t able to do that, but it started a friendship that’s included one Hall and Oates concert and many Friday nights of karaoke, where you might see him belt out “Living in America” by our fellow Georgian, the late great James Brown.

Shortly after his victory at the state convention in Columbus, McKoon was communicating with leaders who had gone a long time without talking to their party’s chairman.

All this to say: McKoon has what it takes to heal a rift, and that’s job No. 1 for the new chairman. In recent years, the state party – whose purpose is to elect Republicans in general elections – has found itself in bitter opposition to Republican incumbents. In the wake of Trump’s complaints about Georgia’s 2020 election results, then-chairman David Shafer openly sided with the Trump-endorsed challengers to the Republican governor, attorney general, secretary of state and insurance commissioner. The incumbents, broadly popular conservative leaders, were subjected to boos at party events.

Mending Fences Georgia Trend MagazineGov. Brian Kemp responded to all this by changing state law to give himself the ability to raise unlimited funds and allow his own organization to supplant the party’s traditional duties of voter contact and turnout efforts.

The party has probably lost some of those functions forever – present and future elected leaders aren’t going to give away that authority now that they have it.

McKoon said his first job is re-engaging the state’s top Republican elected leaders. “That’s priority No. 1,” he said to me when we met at Mo’s Pizza off Briarcliff Road in Atlanta two days after his election.

Shortly after his victory at the state convention in Columbus, McKoon was communicating with leaders who had gone a long time without talking to their party’s chairman.

“Like in football, you’ve got to suit up and put all your players on the field,” he said. “Frankly, what that involves is a lot of listening about how the party can add value to keeping a Republican governing majority.”

McKoon points to previous Kemp comments that he “doesn’t have a rift with the state GOP.”

“He didn’t say he wants to replace the party [with his super PAC],” McKoon said. “He said it wasn’t enough to win statewide office. I welcome the additional resources. This is a positive development.”

The new chairman vows he’ll never get involved in primaries, saying his job to elect Republicans in general elections.

“We must amplify Georgia Republicans’ successes and relentlessly prosecute the case against the Democrats,” McKoon said. “I want an aggressive communications response team, because there’s a negative narrative in the media and there’s no response from us.”

In McKoon’s view, the party needs to amplify state Republicans’ efforts to give relief with tax rebates to Georgians hurt by inflation, to fight crime by taking on gangs and lax prosecutors, and to fix an economy that left too many behind, with economic development projects like the Rivian and Hyundai plants.

“The state party needs to be in the content-creation business,” he said, saying he’d like to produce a documentary about what it meant for Georgia business and families that Kemp quickly reopened our economy during COVID.

Georgia Republicans have delivered prosperity for Georgians, so McKoon has a good story to tell. And telling those stories will go a long way to mending those fences.

Categories: Opinions, The Georgia File