Blacks Forget How to Political Horse Trade with Democrats and Republicans

Embattled Californ1a Governor Gray Davis makes appearances at selected black churches and handpicked black groups. Davis's wanna-be gubernatorial recall election replacements, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, Tom McClintock, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, have made no appearances before black groups. But they have appeared at countless rallies, forums, town halls, and confabs of women's, Latino, environmental, and labor groups, and before Indian casino gambling owners, pro gun and anti-abortion, and taxpayer association groups, and business groups. They have carefully spelled out to these groups what they will do for their vote should the recall vote ever occur. This is astute, political horse-trading that all interest and advocacy groups engage in with politicians, and that politicians want and expect.

There are two recent textbook examples of this. One is the driver's license law for illegal immigrants. Davis vetoed the bill twice. But this time Latino Democrats bluntly told him sign the bill or you can kiss the Latino vote, and your job, goodbye. Davis got the message, quickly signed the bill, and then scurried over to the annual Mexican Independence Day parade in Los Angeles to soak up the cheers from Latino Democrats and the crowd. The other example is Bustamante's deep, and embarrassing, flirt with Indian gambling casino interests.

They heavily bankroll his campaign and in return he lobbies hard for them to expand their gambling operations.

But why won't Davis, Bustamante, McClintock and Schwarzenegger appear at a serious open policy issues forum with black voters and spell out what they'll do for them in return for their vote? Because they feel they don't have too. The Democrats and Republicans assume that blacks are blind-faith Democrats and will blindly pull the lever for them again. They are and they aren't. Blacks make up about 8 percent of the California's voters. In 2000, nearly 85 percent of blacks voted for the Democrats. But despite the myth that blacks are monolithic Democrats, nearly 15 percent of blacks in California voted for Bush in 2000. This was the fourth biggest black vote total the Republicans got from any state, and surveys show that more and more blacks than ever call themselves "independents," which means that they are willing to broker their vote to the party that best addresses their issues and needs.

There's another reason that these politicians ignore or take the black vote for granted. There is absolutely no pressure put on them by black political or advocacy groups. They don't consistently demand that these politicians talk about and take strong action on soaring black unemployment, gang violence, affirmative action, the glaring racial disparities in the criminal justice system, racial profiling, drug reform, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, increased spending for housing, business development and failing inner city schools. However, there was a time when blacks understood and astutely played the political game.

In 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. threatened to boycott both the Republican and Democratic conventions to force a stronger civil rights platform. Both parties immediately strengthened the civil rights planks in their platforms. In 1965, Harlem Congressman, Adam Clayton Powell issued a "Black Position Paper" to the Democrats. Powell demanded, "Where we are 20 percent of the voters, we should command 20 percent of the top political jobs." The Democrats sharply increased their number of black political and judicial appointments.

In 1972, the Black Political Convention that met in Gary, Indiana demanded that President Richard Nixon increase minority business funding, propose non-punitive welfare reform, and strengthen affirmative action programs in the building trades. He did. The convention also pushed the Democrats to adopt one of the most liberal activist platforms ever. They did.

In 1984 and 1988, Jessie Jackson's Rainbow Coalition pushed the Democratic Party to support District of Columbia statehood, national health insurance, full employment, political redistricting, and affirmative action. The party supported these public policy initiatives.

In 1996, the National African-American Leadership Summit demanded that Republicans and Democrats endorse an "independent black agenda." The Summit did not get its wish. President Clinton, virtually assured of a walkover reelection victory over clueless Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, resurrected his winning 1992 election tact strategy of courting white middle-class voters, while saying and doing as little as possible about racial issues. However, once reelected, Clinton did speak out on affirmative action (modified though it was) and convened a panel to grapple with racial problems (tepid and guarded though its recommendations were).

The failure to press Davis, Bustamante, McClintock and Schwarzenegger to make political concessions to blacks as the price for their vote is the single biggest reason why black voters in California (and increasingly nationally) have been shoved to the netherworld of state and national politics. It will stay that way, or get worse, until they present Republicans and Democrats with a bill for their political services and then collect on it.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press).

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