Black Republicans seek voters, but face distrust (FCN, 09-14-2004)

WASHINGTON ( – Before the resignation of Secretary of State Colin Powell and FCC Chairman Michael Powell, his son, and before the disgrace of pundit Armstrong Williams, all of the prominent Black Republicans in this country could literally fit in a phone booth.

The long list of the Bush administration’s Black personnel is now even shorter, exposing another troubling sign: how few “trustworthy” Blacks there are in positions of influence within the GOP.


For example, a National Urban League official said recently that he hopes Claude Allen–President Bush’s newly-appointed Domestic Policy Advisor–will be responsive to Black leaders and willing to discuss a range of social issues that impact Black Americans. Mr. Bush nominated Mr. Allen, a conservative who is against abortion rights, for abstinence until marriage, and holds strong views about gay men and lesbians to the federal appeals court in 2003, but his confirmation was never voted on.

The President recently named Mr. Allen to the sensitive White House post, but some Blacks in his native Virginia question his views on race. At a meeting about Virginia’s controversial Confederate Heritage Month a few years ago when he was on the staff of Gov. James Gilmore, Mr. Allen presented an NAACP leader a painting of Confederate Army Commander Robert E. Lee.

Responsible Blacks–or any Blacks for that matter–are conspicuous by their absence from prominent leadership positions in the Republican Party, aren’t they? This writer posed that question to: Dr. David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) outgoing Congressional Black Caucus Chairman; and University of Maryland political scientist Dr. Ronald Walters.

“I can’t really answer that question, because I don’t know enough Republicans to be able to answer it fairly. I’m sure there are some, but I don’t know them,” Rep. Cummings told The Final Call. He also confirmed that he would participate in a presidential Inaugural “Unity Gala,” organized by former House Republican Conference Chair J.C. Watts (R-Okla.). Mr. Watts retired from Congress in 2002, after having survived a bruising closed-door fight with other House GOP leaders. He now operates a consulting firm in Washington.

“I was disappointed that Colin Powell was leaving,” Mr. Cummings continued, “because I do believe that Colin Powell has the interest of African American people at heart. I don’t care what anybody says. I’ve gotten to know the man, and I think deep in his heart, he wants to make sure he does the right thing. I think him leaving doesn’t bode well for African American interests being served in the Republican Party.”

There was a time when Black Republicans actually supported the Civil Rights agenda, Dr. Walters recalled in an interview. Old School Black Republicans used the GOP for business contacts, he said, but they were in synch with the rest of the Black community on the need for civil rights, and they supported it. But Black Republican activists today “are ideological clones of the right-wing, White establishment.” These new Black Republicans also use the party for their business contacts, such as pundit Armstrong Williams getting a $240,000 contract to be a propagandist, said Dr. Walters.

“But there are a number of them who are ideologically committed. But the number is small. The number you could put in a phone booth. But in the second (Bush) administration, you’ll probably see fewer of them.” Many of the more prominent Blacks, like Mr. Watts, have moved on, others remain outside of office, and are able to win government contracts.

“It is traditional that those Blacks who hold radical right wing positions have been few in our community and, therefore, not many of them are represented in this administration, which has a very strong right-wing cast,” he further explained.

On the plus-side, there are a few Black Republicans holding important offices on the state level, said Dr. Bositis, who has polled most of the 9,000-plus Black elected officials nationally, most in non-partisan offices. Of the 2,500 or so Blacks elected to partisan positions, only about 50 are Republicans.

Two of the most prominent are Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. But Mr. Blackwell was widely criticized for his role in certifying the 2004 election results despite complaints by Blacks of massive voter intimidation and election fraud. Mr. Blackwell is very unpopular in the Black community in Ohio, said Dr. Bositis who pointed out that there are two moderate White Republicans who are more popular with Blacks.

“Are these leaders primarily representing African Americans, or are they primarily representing Republicans?” Dr. Bositis asked rhetorically. “Yes, there certainly is a need for the kind of person” who will articulate the Black Agenda in Republican circles, rather than simply preaching right-wing Republican issues in the Black community.

“Whether that kind of a person is potentially available, I don’t know who that person would be. Because you’re not just talking about the White House, you’re talking about the Congress as well.

“In terms of the Congress, there’s nothing there. And I don’t think that the Congressional Republican leadership, by and large, really thinks of African Americans at all,” Dr. Bositis concluded.

“It’s the Republican Party that should be embarrassed,” said Dr. Walters, “primarily because they have sponsored a racial public policy and a racial ideology, which has for the most part been implemented to the detriment of the Black community.

“To the extent that the mainstream of the Black community doesn’t buy into (the conservative Republican agenda), they’re the ones who have created this divide in American society. Black people feel excluded, which is what we’ve been, traditionally, in this society. We have no right to feel ashamed of being excluded. The onus really ought to be on those people with power,” in the GOP, Dr. Walters concluded.