Sue Everhart, chairwoman Georgia GOP
ATLANTA -- The rambunctious, three-candidate race for Chair of the Georgia Republican Party -- which now includes one candidates' controversial comment about an Afghan native -- has become cutthroat, in a manner of speaking.
First, some set-up:
The three candidates -- Incumbent Sue Everhart, and Challengers Shawn Hanley and Tricia Pridemore -- were speaking before a crowd of about 50 at a Golden Corral buffet luncheon hosted by the Henry County Republican women's group, on Thursday in McDonough.
When it was Everhart's turn, she talked about how she has tried, in her role as state GOP Chair, to unify some divisions in the Henry County GOP.
She asked the people there to try to make peace, or at least get along, with a long-time party activist they all knew, and with whom they've had some arguments -- Sahar Heckmati.
Heckmati was born in Afghanistan but has long since become a U.S. citizen. She broke from the Republican women's group in Henry County and formed her own group, Conservative Republican Women.
Now, to the comment Everhart made in trying to explain to the others Sahar Heckmati's approach to dealing with party disagreements. It's quoted here from an audio tape emailed to 11Alive News by a supporter of one of her rival candidates:
"Sahar doesn't fight like we fight. She has a different culture. We'll send emails back and forth, but Sahar cuts your throat."
Charles Mobley and Jonie Scott were among those who were there. What they are saying they heard was not exactly what Everhart said; but the way they heard it, the way they now say Everhart's comment played in the room, offended them and others.
"When I heard the head of the Georgia Republican Party say the phrase -- people from this culture would rather cut your throat -- I couldn't believe it," Scott said. "I found it to be reprehensible. Everyone in the room, I think, it just sucked the air out of the room. No one could believe it. It was just irresponsible."
"She said something of the magnitude of -- their culture is different than ours, and they will just slit your throat versus working with you at times," Mobley recalled. "That's how I would think the majority of folks did take it. What Ms. Everhart said was not appropriate, and it came across wrong.... She might have said it off-the-cuff and really didn't think about it, but in her position as a leader of the Republican Party of the State of Georgia, I have a problem with that. We need to make everyone included [and not] talk bad about other cultures."
11Alive News played the tape for Everhart Friday night.
When she heard her own comment, she said, "I don't see anything wrong with what I said," and explained that in the context of her remarks it should be clear that she was defending Heckmati, not offending her or the culture of her birth home.
"It was just a cliché to make a point that Sahar is very passionate" when she takes a stand during the party's intramural squabbles.
"Her passion -- she is going to work and work hard, and she's not going to take any mouth from anybody. Sahar will fight for what she believes in and she will not give up until she wins."
Heckmati led the Henry County Republican women until she had the falling out with them. She was not at their lunch, Thursday. She is not joining them now to criticize Everhart.
"Absolutely not, absolutely not," she told 11Alive News Friday night. "I just think it's a huge misunderstanding.... I'm not offended at all, whatsoever. It's just Sue's opponents, political opponents, trying to make a big deal out of nothing. It is really all just a ridiculous thing.... People in the Henry County Republican Party have called me an Islamic terrorist," which, Heckmati said, as a Christian who supports the fight against terrorism, is what has offended her.
But Mobley and Scott and others who were there Thursday told 11Alive News that the perception in that room was that Everhart, at best, had committed a slip of the tongue that will harm the party.
"I think it was detrimental," Mobley said. "I do think it set us back a few paces. And we're going to have to work to overcome such things."
"How on earth now do we ever have any kind of minority outreach program in the Republican Party? I don't know," Scott said.
During Thursday's lunch, Everhart also said this about Heckmati -- a few minutes after the "cuts your throat" line -- to advise everyone there to lighten up on Heckmati and stop their own negative talk about her:
"Sahar is one of God's children. And I am not going to be hateful, mean and vindictive to any member of this party."
Everhart said Friday night she's never been through a campaign as rough as this one.
"They weren't taken aback by it. It was just, they got together after it was over and decided we'll take it out of context and make something of it. And now is the time when I'm running for re-election, and I'm not their candidate, [they see there] is a possibility that they could smear my name.... I am a people person and I get along with people. And I think people that are hurtful, I pray for them nightly."
The tape of her entire remarks, included above, runs 10 min. 3 sec. The "cuts your throat" line is at 3:40. The "one of God's children" line is at 6:49. The tape was supplied by a supporter of one of Everhart's opponents.