“As an American, as a
Georgian and an Athenian, I want the best candidate,” — Athens-Clarke County Mayor, Nancy Denson, a life-long Democrat.
Having spent a few decades in and out of the political campaign trenches, as a campaign staffer, adviser and volunteer, as well as senior staff member with stints in Washington, D.C. and under Georgia’s Gold Dome, I’ve encountered many people whose world view is almost always skewed through the prism of partisanship.
We are all Americans, with so much in common, and yet our political activists and leadership seemingly seek, and so often to prefer to divide us. I’ve learned that fine people and leaders come from both major political parties. The best also understand that their party has no monopoly on solutions or no singular purity as it relates to a path to achieving them.
Clarke County, home to the University of Georgia, is the smallest county by land mass in our great state. Athens Mayor Nancy Denson, nearing the completion of her second term, previously served Clarke County well for decades as Tax Commissioner, prior to winning the office of mayor. Athens/Clarke has a consolidated government, where Mayor Denson has been a fiscal conservative as long as she has been a lifelong Democrat. A member of Clarke’s legislative delegation in the General Assembly, Rep. Regina Quick (District 117) was Republican. A strong legislator, I expect Quick will fast establish a strong record as a jurist following her recent appointment to the bench.
Quick’s move to the judicial branch created an opening and special election ahead for her House seat. All candidates for the office will run simultaneously, the top two finishers, barring any candidate receiving 50 percent, plus one vote, will likely vie for the office in a special election runoff.
At the age of 19-years old, Houston Gaines, a UGA freshman, became campaign manager for Nancy Denson’s re-election campaign for mayor in 2014. Though his beard might have caused you to consider young Gaines a few years older, it was his sharp mind, tactical thinking and ability to build and form a strong ground organization for the Mayoral campaign that would have caused you to believe he was a decade older. And after that near landslide win, and while maintaining his studies at the University of Georgia, Gaines began building coalitions there too, first elected and serving as vice-president, and later president of UGA’s Student Government Association.
Denson surveyed the potential candidate field and assessed, as she nears the end of her final term, which candidate would be best for her beloved Athens, Clarke County and the University of Georgia. Denson chose to back Houston Gaines, who is running as a Republican. Denson hosted a fundraiser in her home and donated to the Gaines’ campaign. Gaines has raised an incredible $66,000 for the special election, and his support is deep, bipartisan and across the district.
For this act of bipartisan outreach, the Athens/Clarke County Democratic Party has chosen to excommunicate its mayor, and the titular head of the local party, via her position as the highest elected local official.
One choice, one special election, and party activists and loyalists are calling Mayor Denson a traitor...a Benedict Arnold. Ironically, or hypocritically, depending on your point of view, these same party leaders, within days of denouncing their mayor, pronounced U.S. Sen. John McCain, a maverick Republican from Arizona as a patriot, hero and true leader for breaking with his party, president and majority leader to vote in opposition to the Graham/Cassidy Bill. The bill was the Senate GOP health care plan, to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. McCain breaks with his party and Athens Democrats lionize him. Mayor Denson breaks with her party, and she gets fed to the lions. Double-standard much?
Denson has seen Houston Gaines in action, and she knows well the fine measure of this young man. She has said nothing publicly in opposition of the other candidates, nor raised a stink or fought back against the small minded members of the local Democratic Party which she supported and helped lead for decades. Tomorrow the sun will rise and again set, and some will view each day through rose or blue colored glasses...but if the world is truly a rainbow as many Democratic activists would espouse, you are really blocking and missing out on some of the best hues.
Bill Crane is a senior communications strategist who began his career in broadcasting and has worked at the state capitol and in Washington in both political parties. Contact him