A new conservative group has formed in North Georgia, the Lanier Republican Assembly, and it shares some of the same leadership as the Hall County Republican Party.
The new group created at the end of July is separate from the GOP and covers nine counties generally matching the area of Georgia’s 9th Congressional District: Hall, Banks, Barrow, Dawson, Habersham, Jackson, Forsyth Lumpkin, Madison and White counties.
It’s led by President Kimberly Pils, who also fills the first vice chair position of the Hall County GOP. Other leaders include Vice President Stephanie Elder, who is a precinct chair of the Hall County GOP; Treasurer Noreen Cantor, also the events chairwoman of both the Hall County GOP and the Republican Women Hall County; and Secretary Ana Adams-Wiley, also the secretary for the Hall GOP and the campaign activities chairwoman for the Republican Women of Hall County.
About 40 people attended the charter meeting of the LRA on July 31 at the Gainesville Denny’s restaurant.
The LRA has a statewide component, the Georgia Republican Assembly. Neither group is an official part of the Republican Party, as the website of the GRA makes clear.
Atlanta attorney Alex Johnson is the president of the GRA. He was one of the contenders to be the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party earlier this year, but lost out to longtime lobbyist and fundraiser John Watson.
Both the LRA and its statewide group will endorse candidates in Republican primaries, a step carefully avoided by official Republican parties.
Hall County Republican Party leadership met for the first time since the LRA was formed Thursday. Pils told The Times that there was a positive and “open dialogue” about the new group.
“I encourage all LRA members to be a member of their local GOP. There’s a two-party system in the state of Georgia, and if you want to make a difference ... you still have to be involved in your GOP — in your party,” Pils said. “I feel very strongly about that. This isn’t about formulating another group and turning our back on the GOP. This is about formulating a group that can be an extension and help the GOP.”
But there are questions, chief among them whether so much overlap between the local GOP leadership and the LRA will jeopardize the neutrality of the party during Republican primaries.
“That’s very simple: As individuals within the GOP — of any GOP leadership positions — we are allowed to endorse a candidate as an individual,” Pils said.
She said she couldn’t and wouldn’t endorse a candidate using her position in the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, the LRA membership will vote on who it will endorse.
“That’s a vote taken at a general meeting, and members may agree on endorsing a candidate and we may not,” Pils said, noting each member gets one vote and no proxies are allowed. “We may not be able to come to a majority.”
Kris Yardley, a former chairman of the Hall County GOP, said he thinks problems could arise on the horizon, as 2018 promises to be a heated election year.
“I’ve been in races where there were seven people who were Republicans. It was a local election ... and it can be very divisive when people put their money and their reputation on the line to support someone and their friend supports somebody else,” Yardley told The Times. “Can you imagine if the party decided to pick one of those people?”
He said people should be free to join the LRA and that he doesn’t discourage joining it, but that mixing the boards of the Hall County GOP and the LRA “could be a very divisive” step for members of the party.
For her part, Cantor, the treasurer of the LRA and events chairwoman for the Hall GOP, said she just wanted to do what was best for her country.
“We just want to reach out to everybody and pull everybody in so we can get the right candidates in office,” Cantor said on Friday. “That’s why I want to do what I can to save this country for my kids and my grandkids.”
Pils said she hopes the LRA will be a place for conservatives and Donald Trump voters who are frustrated by the lack of action in Congress, especially on health care.
Cantor fits into this category.
“They didn’t do their job,” she said of national lawmakers. “They didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare, and they should have. They’re just not backing Trump like they should.”
Current Hall County Republican Party Chairman Matt Smith said “time will tell” on whether the mixing of the two groups’ leadership will pose a problem.
“That’s something that really the constituents in Hall County, the Republican Party members, that’s something they’ll have to decide,” Smith said. “We were voted in and put in place by the Hall County Republicans. That’s our job — to represent them and be a liaison between them and their elected officials.”
He said the party leadership in their official roles represents all Republicans, which is why leaders don’t endorse during a primary. Whether being a member of leadership of both groups creates a conflict of interest wasn’t clear, he said.
One thing that was clear from Smith — the LRA is not an official extension of the GOP.
“They are not the Republican Party. They are not an auxiliary arm, an auxiliary group, that’s recognized by the Republican Party,” he said. “They do have the same principle set as the Republican Party on their website, but as far as an extension, I don’t know how you’d classify it as that.”