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Black Republicans Ponder Their Future…

November 24, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( – With the election of former Democratic Sen. Barack Obama as president of the United States with overwhelming support from communities of color – 95 percent among Black voters and over 65 percent among Latinos – many Black Republicans, in contemplating their future, also are reflecting on their place in a party that critics say has always marginalized them.

Leading the way is former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele who has decided to run for chairman of the Republican National Committee which provides national leadership for the Republican Party. The committee is responsible for developing and promoting the Republican political platform, as well as coordinating fundraising and election strategy. It is also responsible for organizing and running the Republican National Convention.

Steele was the only African American given a prominent speaking role – “drill, baby, drill” was his most memorable line — at this year’s Republican National Convention held in St. Paul, Minn. Only 36 of the delegates were Black, representing less than 1.5 percent of the total delegates and a 78.4 percent decline from four years earlier.

Steele, who ran unsuccessfully for a Senate seat two years ago, noted the party’s loss this year of the White House, six U.S. Senate and 24 House seats. A former state party chairman in Maryland and the first African American elected to a statewide office there, Steele said his party has lost its way and needs to return to its core values.

“The Republican Party must present a vision for the future of America that relies on our conservative values and core principles,” Steele told The Associated Press last week. “It is wrong to believe the voters have suddenly become liberal. They have just lost any sense of confidence that the Republican Party holds the answers to their problems.”

His opponents for the GOP’s top post include several state party chairs and political operatives.

Steele’s candidacy is the latest development in an effort by African Americans to make an imprint on the Republican Party. If elected at the annual RNC meeting in January, Steele would become the party’s first African-American chairman and only the second Black person to head a major political party since Ronald Brown served as chair of the Democratic National Committee, from 1989-1993.

While the election of Obama as the first Black president was a proud and historic day for all Black Americans – Democrat and Republican alike — it did not bode well for Blacks within the GOP. No Black Republican who ran against a member of the Congressional Black Caucus came even close to winning.

The last Black Republican to serve in the U.S. Congress was J.C. Watts, from 1995-2003. There is only one Black person on the Republican National Committee — Virgin Islands committeewoman Lilliana Belardo De O’Neal.

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware ran for the Florida House of Representatives as a Republican in a district that included Tallahassee and some of its suburbs. He lost the race by a thin margin of only 440 votes.

Out of approximately 10,000 Black officeholders nationwide, there are only 14 Republicans on the state level, which consists of state legislators and statewide offices, and 40 in local offices, according to research conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain received only 4 percent of the Black vote, far behind President Bush’s showing of 11 percent in 2004. It is the worst showing of a GOP presidential candidate with the Black vote since Barry Goldwater got 6 percent in 1964.

David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center, said that McCain’s poor performance among Black voters had little to do with his political career.

“He has largely been a stranger to African Americans, coming from a state with a minimal Black population,” Bositis said. “Rather, his lack of support was a reflection of Obama’s historic candidacy, the deep and genuine enthusiasm for him in the Black community, and McCain’s association with Bush, an exceptionally unpopular figure among African Americans.”

Mykel Harris, chairman of the Prince George’s County, Md., Republican Central Committee, said his party must reach out more to Blacks if it is to thrive again.

“First and foremost, the GOP must realize that it cannot compete with the Democratic Party in giving away free stuff,” Harris said. “In the final analysis, the GOP must demonstrate that it can apply conservative principles in a manner which will yield positive solutions in the Black community.”

Harris said that Obama is a good example when it comes to selecting schools that his children will attend. “When President-elect Obama takes office, his family will exercise their choice in selecting the best school for his children,” he said. “Yet the new Democratic Congress is already threatening to shut down the Republican-sponsored school choice program in Washington, D.C. Despite its popularity with D.C. families who attend or wish to do so, the funds are in jeopardy due to opposition by the teacher’s union and other political allies of the Democratic Party.

“…the GOP must demonstrate that it can apply conservative principles in a manner which will yield positive solutions in the Black community.”

“Add to that the GOP’s total failure to promote its own success in this area, the program is almost a state secret. In the future, the GOP must do a better job in promoting and taking credit for programs which positively impact our communities.”

Cameron Lewis, president of the Howard University Black Republicans, said that Blacks and the GOP have long had common interests. “The Republican Party should stay true to its principles of small government, low taxes, personal responsibility and strong national defense,” Lewis said. “The principles have always appealed to Black Americans; however it’s time for the GOP to distance itself from the far-right message that racism is dead, affirmative action is irrelevant, etc. It’s time for the older generation to pass the baton.”

Lewis said he would make the same argument to older Democrats who, he said, “tend to perceive race as a birth deficiency.”

Steele, who was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and is the present chairman of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee, said that outreach is something on which the party needs to improve. “The problem is that within the operations of the RNC, they don’t give a damn,” Steele told the Washington Times. “It’s all about outreach…and outreach means let’s throw a cocktail party, find some Black folks and Hispanics and women, wrap our arms around them –‘See, look at us.’”

Written By James Wright

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