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New party leaders set goals for political agenda in area
0330POLITICS 0001
Sheila Nicholas

The influence of local political parties tends to ebb and flow with the election cycles.

So in the early spring of 2015, that should mean things are pretty quiet on the home front.

But that’s not exactly the case.

In fact, local Republicans and Democrats are recharging rather than rebuilding at this time, with new leadership and new goals lining up in anticipation of November 2016.


Liberal and conservative candidates have already begun announcing their intention to run for president in 2016, and with that, the ball is rolling.

Debra Pilgrim was elected the new chairwoman of the Hall County Republican Party earlier this month. She takes over for Kris Yardley.

Pilgrim had previously served on the party’s executive committee as district vice chairwoman, then as a liaison to lawmakers at the state Capitol in Atlanta, and also as first vice chairwoman.

“I progressed quickly because I always hit the ground running,” Pilgrim said. “I like to accomplish a lot in a short period of time. I am aggressive in those ways when I feel passionate about something.”

For Pilgrim, being a Republican means advocating for  less taxes, smaller government, and more personal responsibility and local government control, she said.

On the other side of the political aisle, Sheila Nicholas took over for Frank Lock as chairwoman of the Hall County Democratic Party earlier this year.

A recent transplant from Michigan, the self-described lifelong Democrat has seen the inner workings of political parties for years while working in Washington, D.C., and organizing elsewhere. 

“My goal is to build the party here,” she said.

The party was largely defunct after the 2012 election, but then resurrected last year with increased activity and the opening of a new headquarters on Athens Street.

Nicholas said her politics were influenced by the women’s rights and civil rights movements while growing up and starting a career.

Work to be done

If Democrats want to gain more relevance in local and state politics, where conservative Republicans dominate leadership roles, it has to begin with better messaging, hints Nicholas.

“I think we have to start using words that really describe who and what we are,” Nicholas said, adding that liberals too often allow themselves to be defined by conservatives.

The need for better communication and outreach “goes all the way down to the local parties,” Nicholas said.

Pilgrim shared a similar concern for the GOP.

Broadening the party’s tent, or coalition, is essential and begins with “education, education, education,” Pilgrim said.

“We are conservative,” she added. “That’s what we do. It’s important for us to stick to that message,” and not cave to political correctness.

But serving the public interest has become a strained task, particularly at the federal level.

“It has just changed so much in the past 20 years,” Nicholas said, adding that both parties, and the public in general, have become more polarized.

“There’s always two sides,” Nicholas said. “But there are certainly things that you can come together on.”

Pilgrim said she also believes politics is more divisive.

Her parents were “blue dog” conservative Democrats, but such things hardly exist anymore, she said.

What comes next?

Political activism begins at the grassroots level, knocking on doors, holding meet and greets, passing out fliers, Pilgrim said.

And that’s how she intends to operate the Hall GOP between now and the 2016 election.

Pilgrim said when her term ends in two years, she hopes to have grown the party’s membership rolls, while also helping increase turnout at the polls.

Pilgrim said she also intends to hold more committee meetings, which will include discussions about proposed local, state and national laws, as well as expand outreach efforts to minority voters.

“Another issue I feel strongly about,” Pilgrim said. “I think there is such great need right now.”

Nicholas said she wants to reach out to younger voters; she intends to create new subcommittees for the Hall Democrats, including one focused on multicultural education.

“There are a lot of Democrats here,” Nicholas said. “They’re kind of afraid to come out. If I could change something in the next four years, it would be that ...”

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