It's just a fact: Republicans catch a lot of grief for being out of touch with the minority communities. The Bush White House was historic in its efforts to promote blacks and hispanics in the Executive, but it was the exception – no black American has represented the GOP in Congress since 2002.
[Ed: SeeqPod is toast, but I figured out a way to use YouTube vids to do the same thing. AverageSoundTrack™ is back baybee!!! Crank dat' volume!]
All that might change in 2010. Behind the scenes the GOP is recruiting minority candidates, often from the military, and Congressional races are looking more diverse across the nation. I wanted to find out what two of these candidates thought of race and the GOP, so I called their campaigns to ask some pointed questions on race and their experiences as a black Americans running on the Republican ticket.
I spoke first with Lou Huddleston. You can see his bio, so I won't go into details. Running for NC's 8th district, Huddleston is a retired Army Colonel and a veteran of the Afghan war, with a political science degree from Morgan State and a solid business pedigree alongside volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity. You can tell he's a good candidate by the way he stayed on-message... Huddleston avoided most of my questions in the official email I received, focusing on his opponent Larry Kissell, and on general issues:
“We all know times are tough for everyone so it is time to stop the silly partisanship, the political blame games, and the outrageous spending and get down to the basics of doing what's right for the American people. We need new jobs, not new energy taxes. We need to help home owners, hard working folks and farmers and not bail out giant corporations. We need economic growth, not government growth. We need to protect our country from terrorists, not weaken our military. We need common sense and well thought-out fixes to complicated national problems, not massive government takeovers like we're witnessing with our health care system.“This is pretty standard campaign-speak, but it didn't really get to the heart of what I was hoping to learn. Given the general perceptions of racism in the GOP, what was it like to be black and running as a Republican? Huddleston had only this to say on the subject:
“As for me being an African-American Republican candidate for Congress, in my view, is not an issue in this race, or, to voters from either party. While some may vote for or against a candidate because of the color of his skin, I believe that most citizens will cast their vote based on the qualifications, values, experience and issue priorities of candidates. That’s what I hear and sense out on the campaign trail.”Les Phillip was a different story. After a couple of emails with his campaign manager, I sat down for a half an hour interview with Mr. Phillip. An immigrant from Trinidad-Tobago, Phillip came to the US as a boy. He graduated from Annapolis, became a pilot, and got into politics after working the private sector and raising a family.
Here's what he had to say about race and the GOP:
spool32: Thanks for talking with me today. I wanted to start off by asking in what ways you feel race is relevant in a GOP primary.
Phillip: I forget who said it, but “Blacks are like the canary in the coal mine.” It hits us first, and then it goes to the wider population. The poor education that we received... education is now becoming equally bad for everyone. Jobs – jobs are not a black issue anymore, it's an issue whether you're white or black, college educated or not.
spool32: Many accuse black Republican candidates of de-emphasizing race because they fear white GOP voters will stay away from the polls. Of course, the implicit suggestion here is that the GOP is essentially racist. Can you give some examples of experiences you've had running on the GOP ticket in Alabama that speak to this accusation?
Phillip: I don't de-emphasize who I am. If you come to a fundraisesr or see me on TV you're gonna know who I am [laughing], so I don't de-emphasize that. I just think there are a lot more issue out there that affect America as a whole. One of the things I do point out is the illegitimate birthrate. 40, 50 years ago it used to be 4% for white, 8% for blacks... now it's approaching 50% for white families and 75% for blacks... you go to the jails right now and you'll find most of the people, both black and white but predominantly the black Americans, come from single parent households. There's a direct correlation between illegitimacy and the rise of young black men in jail, and it's now becoming an issue for everyone. A lot of people expect this to be a black issue, but it's not a black or white issue now, it's an American issue. The disintegration of the family is affecting the entire American society.
And the solutions of a husband and a wife raising a family are applicable to everybody. Democrats keep pouring out this “Republicans are racist” but blacks as a whole live our lives very conservatively. If we really took a hard look at the Democratic Party we'd find that the things that they hold important are not what we hold important... I don't believe the Republican party reflects racism any more or less than the Democratic party. We just have really bad PR.
spool32: How much importance do you think should be placed on simply recruiting minority faces to the party's slate of candidates? Do you think it plays a part in drawing minority voters to the polls?
Phillip: There are people who are going out and recruiting minorities into the GOP, but as far as assistance campaigning... you have to do it on your own. Going forward I think a lot of us have just been aggressive and seen the need... I'll be blunt: a lot of [the leadership] are in disarray and don't really understand what's going on out here. A lot of us are military guys, we're not attorneys you know. It's a difference between sitting around thinking about the process and actually going out there and doing it. Some of us in the district have been saying “we need to be reaching out to younger kids, to the 16yr olds” and they couldn't understand why... in 2010 some of these 16yr olds will be voting for me! But the Democrats understand this pretty well. When these kids are young, we need to teach American principles. They're saying “That guy's rich, it's unfair... you need to help us take his money.” We need to be teaching them “You know what, that guy's rich... let me show you how to get there.”
spool32: Do you think having minority representation makes it easier to get a fair hearing for Republican values inside those communities?
Phillip: Yes. The one thing I blame Republicans for in the last few years is that they have a foregone conclusion that the minority vote is dead. Yet, you look at Lamar Alexander in Tennessee... he gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-35% of the minority vote. The reason is that he started a conversation years before, so that people got to know him, know what he stands for.
Any Republican that gets 25% of the minority vote... they're being responsive to their people, and you can't beat 'em.
spool32: Inside your own district, what's the most critical issue?
Jobs, jobs, and more jobs. Here in the 5th district, we do a lot of defense work. The number one job of the government is to provide for the common defense, and that's what we do here. Some of these weapon systems are extremely complex and they take eight, ten years to develop... if we decide to stand still, in eight or ten years they'll be better than we are. Since we don't want to maintain an Army of 10 million or a Navy with 1500 ships, we have to use our technology to keep us ahead of the game.
spool32: What's your opinion of the the 'birther' conspiracy suggesting Barack Obama is not a 'natural born citizen'?
Phillip: [laughing] I think unless somebody can come up with something concrete, we're wasting energy and we have a lot more pressing problems to deal with. There are enough things to oppose him on than worrying about that!
spool32: what do you think is the most important thing the GOP, the national party, can do to increase their credibility with minority communities?
Phillip: To start, they have to tell the history of the Republican party, and the party did not start with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. They need to go back to Frederick Douglas, one of the founders of the party, and teach the history. The Democratic party was the slavery party, and we need to tell the story of how the switch came. In some cases Democrats just rewrote the storyline and Republicans, through ignorance, arrogance, and a little racism, never counteracted that.
Today, they have to reach out. I don't say reach out in the form of giveaways, but just engage people like they are people, and treat 'em with respect. Now, do they have to go out of their way? Yes, because they screwed up. As simple as that, they screwed up by letting the other guys have the battlefield. That's the biggest thing the GOP has to do, they have to get out of their skins and engage, and unfortunately that will require a change in leadership because a lot of these guys... it's not a racist thing, they're just passive. Racism from the GOP is not the right word... it's a lack of aggressiveness and a lack of principle.
spool32: Speaking to a national audience of center-left readers, some of whom may live in your district, what would you say to them to try and get their vote?
Phillip: If you look at my campaign, you'll see I'm not running for the right or the left, but to bring the power back to the people instead of the government. If you believe that the people are the ones who should control the government, and not the other way around, look at my campaign. There are other solutions to our problems than having the government involved... there are big government people out there, but I'm not their guy. But if you want to join with other people and seek better solutions... have a look at my campaign. You'll like what you see.
Question: In general, does a minority face make you more likely to listen, even if you don't end up agreeing? What do you think about Les Phillip's 'canary in the coal mine' idea? Do you think a history lesson is part of the solution to the GOP's PR problems