GAINESVILLE - "Excited" is the word used by both the state Republican Party chairwoman and the head of the Hall County GOP to describe their reaction to news that Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell is leaving the Democratic Party for the GOP.
Bell is the first African-American elected official to switch parties since the General Election.
"I'm joining the Republican Party because I'm a conservative and simply feel more at home as a Republican," said Commissioner Bell in making the announcement Thursday morning. "I have worked to make government more efficient and less intrusive in citizens' lives and plan to continue those efforts as a Republican." (See separate story.)
"We are excited that Commissioner Bell will help lead the way for many other conservative African Americans to leave the Democratic Party and join the Republican Party. We welcome all conservatives with open arms," said GAGOP Chairman Sue Everhart.
"Party affiliation should not be an issue of race or geography. Mr. Bell shares the Republican Party's conservative values and belief in common sense solutions to the problems facing Georgia," Everhart said. "I am pleased to welcome such a strong and visionary leader."
Bell's action ends a two-year courtship with the Hall County Republican Party.
That's how long Hall GOP Chairman Jim Pilgrim says he's been after Bell, whom he says he sees frequently, to join the Republican ranks... adding, he, too, is "excited" about Bell's decision.
"I always give him my card and my card has an application on the back of it," Pilgrim said with a laugh, adding he feels this is a "good fit" for both Bell and the GOP. "We just feel that he has proven himself as a conservative over the past few years."
Bell is in the middle of his first four-year term on the commission.
The woman who served as his campaign finance chairman when he ran for the commission two years ago, Chandelle Summer, said Thursday she supports his decision because she thinks it will be "best for the state" and "also allow African-Americans to have some representation in the power base of the state."
"The Democratic Party has been rendered obsolete by the last election results and to not have any representation within the power base of the state would be very unfortunate for African-Americans."
Efforts to reach the head of the Hall County Democratic Party for his reaction to all of this has, thusfar, been unsuccessful.