At a standing-room-only session in Washington, D.C., last Thursday, black Republican leaders gathered to discuss bolstering their voter percentage ranks nationwide, after a half-century of single digits.
“It’s changing right now — yes, even after a Democrat was the first black president,” said Niger Innis, national spokesman for the venerable civil rights group Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and principal mover behind the new Black Republican Conservative Leadership.
Innis recalled a trip to Florida last year to celebrate Black History Month and how he was “blown away” to find so many younger Republican Party leaders who happened to be black.
“In Palm Beach County, I was introduced to Rachel Robertson, executive director of the county Republican Party and she was black,” he told me, “and then she introduced me to Michael Barnett, the county chairman, who is also black."
“When I got to Northern Florida and went to a meeting, I saw a black man coming surrounded by a group of white folks. Fifty years ago, a scene like that would have made me nervous but it turned out, this was the Republican chairman of Putnam County and his supporters!”
Innis has since met Eugene Craig III, third vice chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, and Derrick Wilburn, who was recently elected vice chairman of the Colorado GOP with “tea party support.” Both are black.
“And we have state Republican chairman who are black in the Virgin Islands, North Carolina, and Utah!” Innis exclaimed, “So here I am tripping over these black officials and I finally said, ‘This is crazy. Here we are, and we don’t know each other.’”
With this, Innis conceived his vision of a summit of newer, up-and-coming black leaders and more established figures among black Republicans. At last week’s first meeting of the Black Republican Conservative Leadership group, Innis shared the duties of presiding with Michael Steele, the only black to serve as Republican National Committee chairman and former lieutenant governor of Maryland.
Others involved in the summit of conservative black leaders last week included former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Robert Woodson of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, and Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (who has emerged as one of the premier spokesmen against the “death tax,” noting that it is having a devastating impact on black agriculture businesses).
In addition, two black leaders who are both board members of the National Rifle Association, former Ohio State Treasurer Ken Blackwell and CORE National Chairman Roy Innis (Niger’s father) introduced a BRCL delegation to fellow NRA board members and staffers at the fall conference of the sportsman’s organization last week.
“And they were treated like rock stars!” exclaimed the younger Innis.
“Historically, Republicans would not exist but for the liberation of the black people,” Innis told me. “It was not just Lincoln liberating slaves but Republicans guaranteeing their safety during the Reconstruction. And in 1957 it was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon who got the first civil rights bill through Congress in 82 years.”
Today, Innis emphasized, “The issue is liberation from poverty and dependency on big government. That is where Republicans come in and can make gains among black voters.”
But, he quickly added, “The party has got to reach out and make use of the up-and-coming black leaders. And not make their mission harder.”
Innis was referring to recent dissension among North Carolina Republicans over their chairman, stalwart conservative Hasan Harnett, who happens to be black.
“Hasan was elected with tea party support and won about 52 percent of the vote against the ‘establishment,’” Innis told me, “and they never let him forget it. The consultants around the Republican governor [Pat McCrory] are killing Hasan. This kind of business has to stop.”
Innis also called for outreach by Republicans to conservative Democrats who happen to be black, with a campaign to get them to switch. An example, he said, “is Terrill Hill, the mayor of Palatka, Fla. I met him and he’s a conservative and I’m going to win him over to the Republican Party, where he belongs.”
In describing the new conclave of black leaders old and new, Innis stressed that “we welcome the old and the new and we have no ‘boss of bosses.’ My role is just that of facilitator.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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