Conservatives this year have a host of issues on their plate as they gather for the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
But accusations of a splintered Republican Party are dogging organizers, who invited former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin but snubbed popular New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Local state legislators have differing views on the so-called fissures within the party.
State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said cracks do exist in the GOP, and she believes Republicans “need to listen more than we speak right now.” But state Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, accused the “mainstream media” of trying to undermine the GOP’s viability in its reporting.
Some media outlets and opinion pieces have described the GOP as fractured. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner faced a mini-revolt in January in his bid for the speaker’s gavel. Republican strategist Karl Rove made waves recently, when he announced the creation of a SuperPAC that would focus on winning Republican primaries against more radical opponents.
“The so-called mainstream media has long had a well-documented liberal bias,” Lumsden writes in an email. “Their efforts are more about advancing an agenda than reporting the facts.”
State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, said he sees no fracturing of the party. Instead, he said, the GOP is struggling with the direction it should go.
Coomer cited a quotation often attributed to President Ronald Reagan, who said someone he agreed with 80 percent of the time was a friend, not a 20-percent traitor.
“We sometimes focus on the few things that divide us than the few things that unite us,” Coomer said. “It’s nothing new for parties to struggle.”
State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said his party is like any group: its members have different opinions. Any splintering in the GOP is normal.
“We’ve got a lot of cooperation with the state,” Hufstetler said. “We’ve got to figure out how to do that in Washington.”
The GOP’s new direction
CPAC is a three-day event filled with high-profile, conservative speakers. Some of this year’s speakers include Palin, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
State legislators from the Floyd County area said they will not attend this year’s CPAC, citing the waning days of the legislative session at the Gold Dome. However, they are mostly united in the message they want to hear come out of the gathering: one focused on the economy and the nation’s fiscal problems.
The economy and the nation’s debt have taken center stage for the past few years, as the GOP has called for a fitter financial house.
National leaders have been beset with budget woes, and have pointed fingers across the aisle in blame for the recent sequester. In a high-profile move, President Barack Obama cancelled White House tours last week and cited the forced budget cuts as the reason.
Dempsey said her priorities have been shaped by her appointment as chair of the state House’s budget subcommittee.
“What I would love to see come out of this is a call for our nation to have a balanced budget,” Dempsey said.
Coomer agreed, saying he wants the GOP to pursue increased personal responsibility and personal liberty.
“Nobody wants to be the servant of another,” Coomer said. “For me, that means it’s up to me to take care of myself.”
Coomer, however, added that he believes he personally must help those in need — as a duty community members have, not the government.
Hufstetler agreed that Washington must repair its financial house, though he also wants to hear about immigration reform. In his email, Lumsden focused on the economy, national security, health care and tax policy.
“Our economic and physical well-being is a vital concern for all citizens,” Lumsden writes. “How we pay for our security and well-being is a central issue.”
Perhaps one of the biggest factors in determining the party’s direction is the person or people who will take the Republican mantle of leadership. The CPAC presidential straw poll is a barometer of who the party’s right wing wants to see in the White House.
Lumsden favors former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, governors Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie and former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Hufstetler said he has no clear standard bearer in mind, though he also favors Jindal and Rubio.
“These are the types of people that need to step up and take leadership,” he said.