Schwarzenegger Can Tap Minority Anger at Dems

The instant Arnold Schwarzenegger hinted that he might run for California governor, conservative Republicans hammered him for being pro-gun control, pro-choice, and pro-gay rights. Their great fear is that Schwarzenegger's heresy on pet conservative issues could lead him to commit an even greater heresy and support affirmative action, expanded labor protections, immigrant rights, greater spending on education, and health care reform. He might go even further and oppose, or at best give only tepid support, to University of California Regent Ward Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative. The initiative, also on the October 7 ballot, would bar most state agencies from collecting racial data. This would fly in the face of core Republican principles, and policies chiseled in stone by successive Republican governors stretching back to Ronald Reagan in the 1960s.

If Schwarzenegger backs affirmative action, civil liberties protections, and greater public spending, he will also pose a grave threat to the Democrats. In 2000, blacks and Latinos gave solid support to California governor Gray Davis, against conservative Republican challenger William Simon. But Davis's victory masked the plummet in the number of blacks and Latinos that voted. Many stayed home out of anger and frustration at what they perceived as the Davis's insensitivity on key social issues. Racial profiling was one of them.

Davis has opposed every meaningful racial profiling bill. And despite piles of evidence to the contrary, he claimed that if profiling existed at all it was only the dirty work of a few bad cops. Davis's hardball opposition to a tough anti-racial profiling law infuriated many blacks and Latinos. Polls now show that a majority of Latinos back Davis's recall.

Schwarzenegger can tap into the deep anger and discontent of many blacks and Latinos with the Democrats. But he'll have to do more than toss out canned sound bites on social issues; he'll have to actively court black and Latino voters. When Republicans do that they've had phenomenal success. The governor's race in Maryland in 2002 is a case in point. The Democrats had a huge voter majority over the Republicans in the state and for nearly four decades held a tight grip on the statehouse. But Republican governor candidate Robert L. Erlich, Jr. and Lieutenant governor candidate Michael L. Steele, a black Republican, slammed the Democratic candidate for his failure to pick a black running mate, and openly appealed to black and younger voters.

Erlich and Steele got nearly 15 percent of the black vote. That was the biggest percentage of black votes ever for a Republican ticket in Maryland. In Baltimore, they got 30 percent of the black vote. Their success was no aberration.

In 2000, nearly three-fourths of African-Americans identified themselves as Democrats. By 2002, that number had dropped to slightly more than 60 percent, according to a recent survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group devoted to African-American issues. But an increasing number, especially those 18 to 35, identify themselves as independents. One-fourth of black adults now characterize themselves that way. In 2000, Bush slightly punctured the myth that blacks in California won't vote Republican. Bush got more than ten percent of their vote. This was the fourth highest of any state. Bush's vote total among Latinos was even higher.

Many Latino and black voters, and increasingly more black and Latino elected officials, are not straightjacketed by mind-numbing obedience to the Democrats. They have pushed the Democrats and Republicans to stress health care, education, minority business, and education programs and to knock-off the immigrant bashing, increase funding for bi-lingual education programs, champion greater black and Latino political representation, and vastly increase spending on outreach programs to corral more black and Latino voters.

But prosperity, relative racial peace, and the social, and increasing political conservatism of many blacks and Latinos won't be enough to make them rush headlong to Schwarzenegger. He will have to craft a program to provide substantial aid to small business, greater funding to improve public education and bankroll school vouchers, vastly expand urban enterprise zones, provide bigger tax breaks and credits for businesses to train and hire the hard core unemployed in those areas, close the digital divide in technology and computer access and training between the middle-class and the minority poor, support immigration reform, make political appointments that reflect the diversity of California and most importantly confront such thorny issues as racial profiling, police abuse and drug policy reform, affirmative action, and Connerly's racial privacy measure.

So far, he has given little hint that he will do on any of these things. If Simon and conservative Republican Tom McClintock, both on the recall ballot, pound him hard on his perceived liberalism on social issues, he'll be under fierce pressure to toe the conservative line. But if he's the moderate Republican he claims to be, he'll ignore them and go after the black and Latino vote. That would really shake-up Republicans and Democrats.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a Los Angeles-based author and political analyst. He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).

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