Letter: Diversity And Politics

Letter: Diversity And Politics

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

My father, an African American pastor of over 40 years, and local legend in Northern Jersey, reputed for many firsts including being the first African American State Chaplain for the New Jersey National Guard, but also the man who brought Bishop Fulton Sheen to address a meeting of the American Baptists Churches, used to often rephrase the words found in Romans, stating, “The good that I would, I don’t.” Why, when the clear opportunity to do good for ourselves, for our families, for our communities, or for our country, does we often yield?

All around Northern Virginia, at city and county meetings, and in discussions between residents travelling to and fro on public transportation, a common topic repeats itself over and over, again. In a region where women and ethnic minorities comprise almost half of the population, many have openly questioned why more of the elected and appointed officials are not reflective of this diverse population mix.

At a recent meeting in Arlington to discuss the selection for the next county executive, while many concerns were addressed, the most common voice heard in that discussion by a cross section of Arlington residents was that the county pursue a deliberate strategy to ensure that a representative from this diverse community might at least be considered to fill that position. And, in last year’s primary for the seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, one prominent, white Democrat expressed some regret that the top vote getter and nominee was “a rich, old, white man,” in a race that attracted four ethnic minority candidates to fill the seat.

In 1980, speaking before the Republican National Committee on the invitation of Chairman William Brock, the Rev. Jesse Jackson announced that, at least for African Americans, “We must pursue a strategy that prohibits one party from taking us for granted and another party from writing us off.” One conservative commentator has conceded to make the point that, in fact, probably one of the only minority groups to truly leverage their political power, and, by virtue, advance their agenda are the members of the LGBT community, who keep their voting options in play, aligning with the party or candidate that best advances their community interests. Are women, blacks and other ethnic minorities really taken for granted by the New Deal Party? One case in point might be illustrative.

In 2000, the son of President George Herbert Walker Bush, a/k/a, “W,” signed into law the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which provides incentives for developing African countries to build their economies and encourage the growth of free markets, but subjected the measure to a review in 2015, which most thought would pass without objection. But, in 2015, partisan politics thwarted this no brain remedy for our brothers and sisters in Africa, as an amendment to extend preferential duty preferences for Haiti was added, in total expectation that it would provoke a response across from members of another party.

And, even with over 15 percent of his district represented by African Americans, Congressman Beyer went along with his party and voted against the Republican measure to remove this addition. As a result, the fate of the AGOA remains in limbo. That was the only measure in the current Congress that may have held some exclusive salience within the African American community to come up for a vote.

Has the Party of Lincoln wholly written black voters off? Across Northern Virginia, there are some Republicans who so fear the taint of their party affiliation that they seek and gain office running as less offensive Independents. And, in some places, as in Alexandria, you have the opportunity to meet a great, warm guy, who you could almost adopt as a son, like Paul Krizek, in the 44th District — home to neighborhoods like Gum Springs — who recently won his primary and will be unopposed in the General Election, because no Republican, apparently in his right mind believed he even had a chance in this part of Northern Virginia with its high ethnic minority population. Yet, just over in Falls Church, home of Tinner Hill and the yearly blues festival that draws people from around the country to enjoy good music and celebrate the heritage of the founder of the first chapter of the Falls Church NAACP, not one politician, Republican or Democrat even graced the weeklong event.

Taken for granted? And if blacks are taken for granted, consider the Latino population, the largest representation of ethnic minorities in the 8th Congressional district, accounting for almost 19 percent, and the largest event of the year, Fiesta Boliviana. Only two politicians even bothered to set up booths: one Democrat sheriff candidate, and one Republican county board candidate. To me, that sounds like political parties saying, “Why bother?”

Yet, at least since the 1980s, when Republican National Committee Chairman Bill Brock began an “outreach program,” to expand the conservative base of his party and develop policies which might attract what had become a nontraditional, and reluctant base within the ethnic minority communities, some are now starting to recognize the viability of Rev. Jackson’s strategy. A popular video that has gone viral amongst conservatives is the Louisiana state Sen. Elbert Guillory story of why he returned to the party of Lincoln, after years of “living on the Democrat plantation.” But, lesser known African Americans have also started to listen to some Republican candidates who actively courted their support. In a recent RNC-produced interview, Chairman Reinhold Richard "Reince" Priebus beamed with joy as he announced that in the last elections, the party achieved a record 10 percent penetration into the once solid African American vote, and could not contain his enthusiasm when speaking about John Kasich, who with a compassionate conservatism, with religious overtones, attracted a record 26 percent of the African American vote. Nonetheless, with Presidential candidates like the former Herman Cain who wanted to erect an electrified fence to curb immigration across our borders, or incendiary remarks by Donald Trump, it is the overflowing pot that commands the most attention.

To remain a potent force in the body politic, Rev. Jackson’s strategy certainly seems powerful, but, to quote my father’s rephrasing of a national saint, if not a spiritual one, Ben Franklin: “Let a hint to the wise be sufficient.”

Michael D. Webb

Major, USA (Retired)