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Guest column: Bryan County forums bring hope to nation
Guest columnist

Rena Patton

Guest columnist

If you have been holding your breath over the state of our nation, there is hope. I have the evidence. You can exhale. Take a deep, refreshing breath. Feel your shoulders drop and the tense lines around your mouth and eyes relax, soften.

There is hope! And it’s coming from Bryan County, Georgia.

We can come together for the common good. It can be done.

In fact, it was done. Last week in Pembroke and Richmond Hill. The Democrats and the Republicans actually got together, cooperated in mutual respect and partnership, and delivered, for the good of the people, two forums for the non-partisan elections in Richmond Hill and Pembroke.

News flash: The Democrats are not evil and the Republicans do not have horns. They both want their cities and this nation to flourish.

Karen Hewitt, Chair of the Bryan County Republican Party, said, “I was honored to be a part of the first time that the Republicans and Democrats of Bryan County have come together for the good of the county… We might differ in our ideas but both sides want the best for this county and want it to prosper.”

Patricia Hewitt, Chair of the Bryan County Democratic Committee, (Note the irony in the surnames; they are not related), said, “Our civic leaders are navigating unprecedented change in our cities. Now, more than ever, it is critical that voters make informed decisions about their elected officials. We should not rely on social media echo chambers to inform our voting choices.”

Supported by each municipality as well as the Richmond Hill/Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, these forums provided attendees access to those who aspire to leadership.

The Bryan County News Associate Editor Andrea Gutierrez introduced and moderated the events.( She is the soon to be Editor, upon current Editor Jeff Whitten’s imminent retirement. Here, I cannot restrain myself: Thank you, Jeff, for the faithful work you have done in service to our community and to the work integral to a strong democracy: good, fair journalism. You have given us the ever-rarer privilege of having a truly independent local newspaper.)

Yes, the press was present, with coverage by The Bryan County News, WTOC and WJCL, as well as being live-streamed by the City of Pembroke and on the Facebook page of the Richmond Hill/Bryan County Chamber of Commerce. I hope they highlighted the really big news: that the Republicans and the Democrats had joined together and that both evenings were marked by a spirit of community. Dare I say, unity?

Democrat Patricia Hewitt noted, “ These candidate forums were designed to give citizens direct access to candidates’ opinions, plans, and qualifications to hold office.”

Republican Karen Hewitt agreed. “We both tried to make this very much a non-partisan forum and I think that we accomplished that. “

It seems to me that when our passions are not inflamed, nay, infected, by national politics and divisions exploited by hyped-up wedge issues specifically designed to divide us, that if we in Bryan County are not outliers, totally atypical, most of us want to get along with our neighbors, help when others are in need, and desire many of the same things for our communities. We agree on the issues, if not want to do about them. That is another matter for civil discourse.

The topics both parties agreed they wanted addressed by the candidates were: the impact of growth, the value of our coastal environment, the role of small business, and the qualifications of the candidates.

The final question of the night linked qualifications of the candidates with evidence of their proven ability to bring people together: “How has your experience prepared you to lead your community through this unprecedented, dynamic growth? Please provide specific examples of how you have successfully brought people together for a united cause.”

The recognition by both Democrats and Republicans is that one’s ability to unite people is a defining characteristic of the qualification to hold public office. This shared value lights a torch of hope for us all.

Karen Hewitt concluded, “Our object was to get the residents of Pembroke and Richmond Hill to meet all of the candidates so that they could make informed decisions about who will be managing the individual cities. I think we succeeded.”

If the Republican and Democrats can come together for the benefit of the people of Pembroke and Richmond Hill, Georgia, I say it can be done anywhere. Should be done everywhere.

Every country, every state, every Thanksgiving table. Even in the United States Congress. For the good of the America we love —and the America we want to be: One nation, under God, with. . . . you know the rest. It is our pledge.

Editor’s note: Rena Patton is a Richmond Hill resident and a local writer who taught English for a living.

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