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Delegation from afar visits county
Learns about politics, elections
Dennis Brown, left, welcomes a delegation from the Republic of Georgia, part of the Georgia-to-Georgia program, Tuesday to discuss local politics. The group included, from left, Lela Taliuri, Nina Khatiskatsi and Maia Tsiklauri. Top, a book on the former Soviet country. - photo by Autumn Vetter

It’s said all politics are local, but the inner workings of Forsyth County elections was passed on to residents of the Republic of Georgia on Tuesday.

As part of the Library of Congress Open World Program, a delegation of Georgians hosted by the Georgia to Georgia Foundation traveled from the nation to the state for 10 days.

Group facilitator Tinatin Museridze said the goal of the program is to “bring professionals from former Soviet Union countries … to the United States to share the experiences in different fields, like politics, government [and] economic development.”

The group focused on election campaigns and finances and included six representatives from associated fields.

Museridze works as a financial manager from the Georgia Branch Office of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

The delegation also included an auditor, an election project coordinator from the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, a news reporter, a director of a watchdog organization and counsel from the Georgian Chamber of Control.

During their visit to Forsyth County, the delegates met with Dennis Brown, a member of the Georgia to Georgia Foundation who has visited the country several times. He’s also running for the Forsyth County commission post in District 2.

Brown is the only candidate so far to announce he will challenge incumbent Brian Tam in the July 31 Republican primary. Qualifying is set for May 23-25.

During the delegation’s visit, Brown provided some tips he gathered from elected officials on running a local campaign.

“[The delegation] went to the University of Georgia for the official political training,” he said, “but here we’re going to teach them about the local elections, the grass roots.”

He also fielded questions from the group on fundraising rules, reporting donations, the role of social media and more.

“In the local elections, us politicians look at what the people are thinking, what’s on their minds, what’s important,” he said, echoing the well-known phrase that “all politics are local.”

Commissioner Todd Levent and Forsyth County Tea Party member Ralph Stepp also spoke to the group.

Levent discussed his experiences in running a campaign and Stepp talked about the role the tea party plays in American elections.

The opportunity to have Georgians visit Forsyth County came about through Brown’s membership with Georgia to Georgia.

“They asked me to do it … and I said of course,” recalled Brown, who joined the organization after his military service brought him to the Republic of Georgia several times.

“Once you visit over there once, you’re hooked,” he said. “They’re just really great people and they want so hard to have a democratic republic, and they really want to succeed. Your heart goes out to them.”

After the nation became independent of Soviet rule in 1989, a transition to a true democratic-republic took effect as the U.S. reached out to them, Brown explained.

The nation is still working toward increasing openness in government and freedom in elections, though outside agitators and semi-autonomous regions have complicated the efforts, he said.

Nina Khatiskatsi, program director of Transparency International, said her organization fights government corruption and works toward increasing accountability.

“Elections are one of our priorities,” Khatiskatsi said. “We monitor this period as well and try to monitor all political finances.”

She asked several questions about how the campaign fundraising and donations process works at the local level in the U.S.

In Georgia, she said, campaign donations must be made through a bank, which is intended to make the process more transparent.

Those without bank accounts, however, cannot donate, Khatiskatsi said.

After the local meeting, she said she learned a great deal during the group’s visit.

 “The more experience you have, it’s easier to see how reasonable some things are,” she said. “You need to, when you work on something to monitor it, to have more background.

“It’s not enough to know only what’s happening in your country, but in general, what the approaches and principles should be.”