Friday, October 03, 2014

Building the Party, One Point at a Time: The Georgia GOP’s Four Star Program

In February of this year, the Russell Library embarked on a one-year project to process the records of the Democratic Party of Georgia (Georgia Democrats) and the Georgia Republican Party (GAGOP), funded by a generous grant of up to $58,777 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Project archivist Angelica Marini has been providing a series of short articles throughout this year highlighting various aspects of the records as she works to organize, describe and make them available. In her third blog post for the project, Angelica focuses her attention on the records documenting one of the Georgia Republican Party’s innovative efforts to increase political participation and win elections.

One of the Georgia GOP’s top priorities in the last two decades of the twentieth century was to open up state politics and create a competitive two-party system. In the 1980s, the GOP primarily concerned itself with fundraising to maximize the financial resources of specific candidates in specific races. In 1991, following his re-election as party chairman, Alec Poitevint, along with Executive Director David Shafer, worked to craft an ambitious political plan that focused on organizing Republicans, increasing the size and visibility of the party across the state, and making the group a true alternative to the Democratic Party. With the State Executive Committee’s approval, Poitevint and Shafer began putting that plan into action, most notably implementing what they called “The Four Star Program,” a strategy “designed to strengthen the party at its grass roots.”

The Four Star Program combined basic political organization with a healthy dose of competition. Modeled after plans used by the Kentucky and Florida Republican Parties, the Georgia program urged counties to enroll in a contest that awarded points for the achievement of specific political goals. As counties hit certain point levels, they earned status as a one-, two-, three-, or four-star county. The county with the most points overall would win $1000 with second place garnering $500. In addition the program divided counties into five groups, adding another level at which the counties could compete.

This year-long program, which ran September 1, 1991 through August 31, 1992, pushed counties with no political organization into officially incorporated Republican groups. More than anything, the Four Star Program taught local groups and individuals how to be politically active and affect change in local, state and national elections. A Four Star Program manual distributed to each county representative included a list of 33 distinct items or goals. As groups organized and achieved these goals, their points were tallied and publicized in the Four Star Program newsletter.

Party members were encouraged to find any outlet at all that would make the Republican philosophy more accessible and visible in the community; maintaining this presence was a key part of the program. Points were awarded for activities like having a “county Republican booth at your County Fair” or by hosting other Republican-sponsored events like “fish frys, picnics, or Lincoln Day events or dinners.” Each letter to the editor published in a local or statewide newspaper supporting “the GOP, your county party, local elected GOP officials, local GOP candidates, or their positions” was awarded two points.

Other broader goals included promoting frequency and consistency in county organizations; submitting the minutes of regularly scheduled meetings could gain a group up to thirty points. The program also sought to extend reach of the Republican Party by building a more diverse constituency; for fifteen points, each county could submit evidence of an affiliated group for women, African Americans, young people and others.

The Georgia Republican Party Records contain invaluable evidence of the Four Star Program’s success and the efforts to build party strength at the county level. Each county that competed submitted materials to state party headquarters for verification. For example, files submitted by Four Star Camden County, winner of the top prize with a total of 415 points (out of a possible 456), include correspondence between county organizational leaders and state party coordinators, a county political plan, monthly updates, meeting minutes, newsletters, and press materials.

About a year after the program’s implementation, Poitevint issued “Breakthrough ‘92: A Report on Our Progress” in which he affirms the importance of the program and its impact on elections. He confidently states that in the November 1992 elections “records were set or broken at virtually every level of government.” A graph included in the report shows “dramatic increases” in the “Republican voting strength” of the top ten counties in the Four Star Program. The proof: Georgia elected a Republican Senator, Paul Coverdell, and sent three new Republicans to the U.S. House in the 1992 elections.

Post by Angelica Marini, Project Archivist, Russell Library

No comments: