North Carolina has joined a national Republican initiative to engage African American voters.
Though the state’s GOP African American Engagement Office has been up and running since September, it was formally opened in Charlotte on Oct. 21 during a ceremony that drew state and national party leaders. Party officials say they have been looking for new ways to make inroads into the black community since President Barack Obama won reelection in 2012, easily winning the vast majority of votes cast by minorities.
Earl Philip, the Republican National Committee’s African American director for N.C., said the new office fills a “void that has been missing.”
“We make no quarrels about it, we should have been communicating a little more and engaging a little more (with African Americans), so that is what we’re doing now,” he said.
Philip said that though black votes have overwhelmingly gone to Democrats for many decades, Republicans have shown they can get minority votes through engagement. He pointed to Pat McCrory, who got only three percent of the minority vote in his failed 2008 gubernatorial run, but won the governorship in 2012 with 14 percent of the minority vote.
Philip said the engagement office won’t focus on specific policies, but will tout core Republican values to appeal to blacks.
“The mission of our office is to be a resource to the black community for Republican ideals and promote the traditional values of the black community, which are the core values of the Republican Party,” he said. “Those core values are faith in God, strong families, small government, personal responsibility, strong economy and equal opportunity for all.”
The office will focus much of its efforts on black businesses, churches, organizations and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Philip said the reception the office has received so far has been good.
“We’ve been doing this since September, and we have received nothing but open arms, no negativity, none whatsoever,” he said. “Actually we had a number of African Americans to say, ‘About time; glad that you’re talking with us.”
A forum sponsored by the office at Johnson C. Smith University, a Charlotte-based HBCU, on Oct. 17 drew 65 receptive attendees, Philip said. It featured Clarence Henderson, a Republican who played a prominent role in the sit-in movement, and a presentation by the conservative John Locke Foundation on healthcare reform. Republican National Committeewoman Ada Fisher, a physician who lives in Salisbury, also spoke, tackling the importance of voting and the controversial new state voter ID law, which will require voters to show identification to cast a ballot in 2016. The law is one of many coming out of the Republican-led General Assembly that have sparked the NAACP-led Moral Monday protests in Raleigh.
Fisher, during an interview this week, accused N.C. NAACP President William Barber of being inflammatory.
“Some of the things he’s saying are not in the bill,” she said.
Fisher, who has long supported voter ID, said when one strips away the misconceptions and confusion, the measure simply ensures that only citizens vote.
“It is not a voter suppression effort in any respect. If it were something like that, I wouldn’t stand for it,” she said.
Fisher said Republicans are inaccurately perceived by some as callous toward the poor. The reality, according to Fisher, is that the party is not a fan of some government social programs because they create a system of dependency that has hampered – not helped – African Americans.
“We need to look at ways to figure out how we can do this better, maybe how we can do this differently,” said Fisher. “I don’t know a Republican who wants a child to starve from hunger.”
Fisher and other Republicans often tout African Americans’ historic ties to the party. It is the party of Lincoln and the movement that led to the abolition of slavery. Many blacks were staunch Republicans up until the late 1950s, when historians say party leaders began a thinly-veiled effort to pander to segregationists in an attempt to win over Southern white Democrats.
Fisher argues that Republican President George W. Bush paved the way for Obama by appointing African Americans like Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell to high-ranking cabinet posts.
“We’re just not a hostile party,” said Fisher. “We believe what we believe and we advocate for our beliefs and we go to work for them.”
Ironically, one of Fisher’s colleagues, former Buncombe County Precinct Chair Don Yelton, was
unceremoniously dismissed from his post last week for extolling the hostility that many blacks see in the GOP. Yelton, during an interview with cable television’s “The Daily Show,” unloaded on lazy, government-dependent blacks as he gave his thoughts on the state’s voter ID law. His words and dismissal made international headlines.
North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope, who swiftly condemned Yelton’s remarks, said the opening of the African American Engagement Office comes at a historic moment for the party.
“We’ve been building a tremendous grassroots network across the state, and it is vital that we increase our base of support by making sure we’re reaching out to all voters and building strong, lasting relationships with every community,” he said.
Philip said the engagement office is in the process of planning further events. He hopes to schedule more forums at HBCUs and other key institutions in the black community.