While voters watch President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney spar on the national stage, Liberty Countians in coming weeks will play parts in the next step toward this year’s election.
Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, will head to Charlotte, N.C., next week for the Democratic National Convention, while Liberty County Republican Party Chairman and local educator John Wood will cover the event with his middle-school students.
For Williams, who first was elected as a delegate in 1972, this will be his fifth convention in 40 years, he said. He is one of five delegates from Georgia District 1, which falls in line with the Congressional districts adopted last year during reapportionment.
“It is an exciting time. You meet and interact with people from all over the United States and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” Williams said. “It’s quite an affair.”
Williams is one of 110 Georgia delegates pledged to Obama, according to the convention website. Another 14 unpledged are “superdelegates,” who serve by virtue of an office they hold, such as DNC members, members of congress, governors and distinguished party leaders.
For both parties, delegates are responsible for their own travel and attendance-related expenses.
Wood said cost is one of the reasons he is not attending this year’s convention, but he served on the district selection committee that tapped three delegates and three alternates to head to Tampa, Fla., and help solidify the Republican platform.
Because Georgia delegates are awarded proportionally, two of the three pledged Republican District 1 delegates were slated for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
But Georgia Republican Party spokesman Chris Kelleher said Friday that both Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum announced they would release their delegates.
There are three GOP delegates for District 1 and three alternates, though none is from Liberty or Long counties, according to Kelleher.
The entire Georgia GOP delegation is 149, with 76 delegates and 73 alternates. Romney initially won 21 delegates and 21 alternates, and the released delegates are unpledged.
“It’s just a formality, basically. It’s really — what it is more than anything is — a show of unity,” Wood said.
Wood, who teaches gifted social studies at Lewis Frasier Middle School, said he will use the events as real-world lessons in the civic process. He is even working on getting some delegates to report to his classes through Skype chats.
“It’s a teachable moment, so I’ll do the same thing with the convention in Charlotte, too,” Wood said. “There are two whole reasons for the convention: No. 1, it’s to nominate your candidate, and it’s for the candidate to get up here and give his speech and basically to reaffirm the big pep rally before you get out and get going.”
Williams said emotions are higher than usual this year both for and against the incumbent.
“As a delegate, I can well remember some controversial nominees and controversial candidates, but I’ve never seen the rabid dislike that I’ve seen (this year) — and I see it as extremely unpatriotic when you are personally derogatory to the president of the United States,” Williams said.
That freedom to dissent should remind Americans what they stand for and to appreciate their liberties, he added.
“It is a piece of the puzzle in this thing called democracy, where the people have some say in who their leaders are. And the flip side is, regardless of who’s elected, they’re going to be president of the United States, and it tests our character to see how we react if our character loses.”