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In Republican Hall County, Young Democrats press on

POSTED: May 8, 2010 11:25 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Al Turnell talks with Jen Rafanan, president of the Young Democrats of Hall County, during a meeting Saturday with the local chapter of MoveOn at the Gainesville Branch library.

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When the Hall County Young Democrats were honored last month as Georgia’s Young Democrat chapter of the year, it certainly wasn’t for their membership numbers.

A year after being chartered, the fledgling group of 20-something and 30-something liberals (or “progressives,” as they prefer to called), averages somewhere between six and 15 people at its twice-a-month meetings.

Saturday, eight people gathered in a meeting room at the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library System to discuss the influence of corporate special interests in Washington and hear from a local Democratic office-seeker.

But what it lacks in numbers, the group makes up for in tenacity.

Jen Rafanan, the Hall County chapter’s president, says she thinks the Young Democrats’ annual convention in Athens recognized that in super-conservative Hall, young dems face extraordinary challenges.

“It was just the fact that we stayed active, and despite the challenges we face, we didn’t give up,” Rafanan said. “In this sea of conservatives, we’re still paddling. We’re still trying to get our voices heard.”

Hall County, and especially the 9th U.S. House District, has in recent years been a conservative stronghold in Georgia. In recent 9th District races, voters have leaned about 75 percent Republican. On the local level, several Hall County races were decided in the Republican primaries because no Democrats ran.

Being a politically active Democrat in this part of the state “is definitely different,” said Al Turnell, 29, who moved to Gainesville from left-leaning Decatur a little over a year ago.

Turnell said he wasn’t active in politics until he moved to Hall.

“I heard other people talk about what it’s like to be progressive up here, and I said, ‘We need to say something, we need to speak out, we need to make sure people hear us.’ Even if we’re not 51 percent of the people, we still deserve to have a voice.”

Rafanan, who at 34 is five years from the cutoff age for a young Democrat, was recruited to help start a chapter by members the Hall County Democratic Party after becoming involved in the Barack Obama campaign.

She and another young Democrat enlisted four others to get the minimum numbers for a charter.

“From there, we just try to do whatever we can to be active,” she said.

The group’s main recruiting tools are word of mouth and Facebook. The members say they feel a bond from being in the distinct political minority.

“The most rewarding part of being involved is knowing that I’m not the only (Democratic) person here,” she said.

Turnell believes that ultimately, Democrats and Republicans are both similar in at least one respect: “We both want what’s best.”

“We want to make a better Gainesville, a better Georgia, a better America, but it’s just the path we want to take that is different,” he said.

Rafanan acknowledges that it can be difficult being a liberal in Hall County.

“It is a bit challenging and frustrating up here, but all we can do is keep moving forward.”



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