In the post-Civil War Era, inspired by Abraham Lincoln and Union victory, those Blacks who could overcome State requirements aimed at preventing their voting usually voted Republican. President Dwight D. Eisenhower overwhelmingly was supported by Blacks when he ran for re-election in 1956. Then came Senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA) in the 1960 Presidential race. Blacks switched and voted for JFK. They helped him win that squeaker election against Vice President Richard M. Nixon.
What happened? At the time I just had begun my broadcasting career and was working at WLIP in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Working along side me on weekends was DJ Hal Mason. Since I liked the sort of jazz he played on his show we became good friends. I asked him why Blacks suddenly had abandoned the Party of Lincoln and switched to the Democrats, whose policies in the South, after all, were aimed at keeping Blacks in their place.
Mason explained to me that Democrats worked the Black Community hard. Democrats attended events all year long. They showed up at Black churches, at picnics and at businesses where Blacks were employed.
Republicans, he explained, rarely campaigned except perhaps immediately prior to an election and then the Republican Party, he said, showed no interest in the Black Community as such. Mason’s comments made a deep impression upon me. For years after that I tried to interest Blacks in the conservative cause. The word “conservative” itself was poison in the Black Community as it was looked upon as rhyming with segregation.
President Nixon made an effort to reach the Black Community through small business initiatives. I played a small role in that effort. While it worked, the Democrats continued to get the votes. I tried in various ways over the years, first working with Black mayors, then later with supporters of Justice Clarence Thomas, such as Phyllis Berry Meyers, to reach the Black Community. Each effort did not produce a great deal, although Meyers’ initiative was the most productive. She taught me that to attract Black Democrats we must work through the Church. We didn’t have the keys to doing so. Democrats continued to receive the votes of Black citizens.
In the past election, in Ohio and various other locations across the land, Blacks were reached through the Church on the marriage issue. Indeed out of that has grown a working arrangement with African American pastors and the Arlington Group (the coalition of social issue conservative groups). Led by the Reverend Bill Owens, of Tennessee, this effort is at last bearing fruit. I had tried over the years to find the way that the values we represent could be explained to leaders of the Church. Finally, we have that key in Owens, the Reverend Keith Butler, of Michigan, and many others.
Meanwhile, Kenneth B. Mehlman, now Republican Party Chairman after having been campaign manager for the George W. Bush 2004 Presidential Campaign, also shares my passion to bring aboard the Black Community, in his case to the Republican cause. For example, surveys show that the single most pro-life sub-set among American voters is American males. Republicans tend to be pro-life. Many Democrats are pro-abortion. Yet these same Black males vote for Democrats. Why? Because Democrats still show up at Black churches and functions in the Black Community all year long. Republicans rarely are seen.
The Marriage Amendment to the Ohio Constitution drew an unusually high turnout in the Black Community in Northern Ohio and some Black voters had voted for President Bush because Bush supported the Marriage Amendment and Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) opposed it.
So while Mehlman certainly understands what needs to be done, Black leaders, such as Reverend Owens, tell me that Republicans pay only lip service to them. “For us it is still the back of the bus where the Republican Party is concerned.” Owens was shocked to find out that many conservatives feel the same way about the Party. No wonder both conservatives and Blacks get upset stomachs when they consider the GOP. In Ohio, the Republican Party is in a shambles. Governor Robert Taft has contributed to ruining the Party. Some surveys have reported his popularity to be as low as 20%. Taft and his scandals, as well as the behavior of Republican Senator Mike DeWine, who is up for re-election in 2006, have enraged conservatives.
Along comes Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. First elected for two terms as State Treasurer and then in 2002 Secretary of State, getting nearly 50% of the Black vote, Blackwell stands apart from the scandals. He alone supported the Marriage Amendment in Ohio, which received 500,000 more votes than did President George Bush for his re-election bid. All other elected officials, such as Taft, DeWine and the other Republican Senator, George V. Voinovich, opposed the Marriage Amendment. Blackwell not only supported it, he campaigned for it. And he also campaigned for tax limitation. He has a commanding presence, is articulate and is the only hope for Republican retention of the Ohio State House next year. So what did the Party do? Did it embrace Blackwell to demonstrate that Blacks are not given lip service but are welcomed by the Party? No. The Republican Party recruited a candidate to run against Blackwell. Many Ohio GOP leaders evidently would rather control the wreckage than have the independent-minded conservative Ken Blackwell as Governor.
Same thing in Michigan. Establishment Republicans had dropped out of the Senate race against incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. That left Reverend Keith Butler, the only Republican elected to the Detroit City Council since the 1920s. Over the years he has fed and clothed and housed thousands upon thousands of the poor. So did the Republican Party embrace Butler to demonstrate how in this new era Blacks are part of the Republican Coalition? Not on your life.
Senator Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (RSCC), recruited a sheriff to run against Butler. Moreover, she bragged about it as one of her sterling accomplishments since her recruiting fell short in many other States.
True Republicans are helping Lieutenant Governor Michael S. Steele, who seeks the open Senate seat in Maryland, because he has a strong Republican Governor who is backing him all the way. When Dr. Alan L. Keyes twice ran in Maryland he received little or no help from the Republican Party.
After all these years the Republicans finally have an opportunity with Blackwell and Butler to show the Black Community that the doors are wide open. Both candidates strongly articulate conservative values. What is the problem? Granted Butler is an underdog against Stabenow and thus far has low name recognition. Blackwell actually is the front runner for the moment and if the GOP Party machine doesn’t destroy him he just might be elected Governor. What a chance for the GOP to demonstrate a welcome to Black conservatives. After observing developments in Ohio and Michigan, one must conclude that perhaps Reverend Owens is correct when Republican leadership encouragement is mostly lip service.