African-Americans were among the original advocates of the Republican Party after ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870. For at least 65 years—depending upon what part of the nation they resided—Blacks overwhelmingly voted for and supported Republican candidates considered politically as fore-bearers of the “Party of Lincoln.”
That changed with the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Like much of the nation, African-Americans had witnessed a shift within the GOP (beginning primarily in 1908 with the election of William Howard Taft) toward the desires of big business and the wealthy, and less on civil rights and societal uplift-two planks of political activism that originally attracted Blacks to the voting booth.
Beginning with the New Deal of the 1930s and extending through the Great Society of the 1960s, Republicans have witnessed a near minuscule level of support from Blacks in local, statewide and national elections. A new generation of Black voters wants to change that narrative and is determined to shift the prevailing political mindset within their community.
In California, they want to “reintroduce” African-Americans to the GOP by increasing the number of Black Republicans holding statewide office, and also to inspire more Black Californians to “vote red.” California is the fourth “bluest” of the blue states in the country, and hosts the nation’s fifth largest Black population according to the 2010 U.S. Census. These new Republicans attest, it’s time for a change.
“We’re Black first, then Republican,” said Corrin Rankin, a GOP strategist and delegate from the Bay Area. “We believe Republican policies are more in line with our values as Black Americans than democratic policies. We believe in small government. We believe in limited regulation. We believe in low taxes.”
About a year ago at the California Republican convention, Rankin and a number of other attendees decided to organize themselves and form the Legacy Republican Alliance (LRA), a fledgling political action committee, after researching and discovering that the California Republican Party had no apparatus in place to court Black voters. The GOP had essentially given up on the Black vote. It did not offer outreach to the Black community on policy issues nor present viable alternatives to the local, state-wide or national Democratic voting block.
There are no Black Republicans in the state legislature, nor are there Black members of the party’s delegations to Congress. Democrats comprise roughly 72 percent of California’s registered voters, yet only six percent of those likely voters are Republican. Even Independents swamp the GOP statewide at 20 percent of potential voters.
Black Republicans say the Democratic party has ignored the issues dear to them for too long. They’re not doing a good enough job, they say, at empowering Blacks in terms of organizing voter registration, or advocating for voter registration. They’re not addressing the high cost of housing, urban renewal, failing schools, a continued lack of job opportunities in the inner city. They’re failing to combat homelessness, the latter issue being front and center of most state-wide campaigns heading into the November election.
“No, we don’t agree with every issue as our Democratic counterparts, but we will stand with one another and address the difficult issues in good faith,” Rankin explained. “We can work for a better California no matter which political party you may support. We have to listen to one another and talk about the things that impact the Black community not only in California, but across the nation.”
In April 2019, the California Republican Assembly, a state-wide conservative activist group that former governor and U.S. President Ronald Reagan once called “the conscience of the Republican Party,” elected Johnnie Morgan as its first Black president. A high priority, Morgan said, is to recruit more Blacks and Independents to the join the state GOP.
“African-Americans place a premium on family as does the Republican Party,” Morgan said. Like Rankin, Morgan envisions more African-Americans voting Republican because they want to see a difference made in their community.
“Run for the city council. Run for the school board. Represent yourself, your interests, your neighbors and most importantly, help to better represent your community,” Morgan said. “The democrats shouldn’t have a lock on the Black vote and we are determined to change that dynamic.”
The LRA wants to take its show on the road this year. They believe that the framework being designed in California can be adapted to more states nationwide.
“California is in desperate need of diverse and thoughtful leaders who will bring a new and innovative approach to solving the state’s toughest challenges,” Rankin said.
So far, the group has backed Navy veteran Joe Collins in his bid to unseat Maxine Waters in the 43rd Congressional District. Aja Smith, another military veteran, is running to unseat Rep. Mark Takano in the 41st District (Inland Empire), and Tamika Harrison—yet another military veteran—has her eyes set on replacing John Garamendi in the Third District near Sacramento. Pasadena City Hall could also see a Republican in the mayor’s office as Major Williams has tossed his hat into the ring in “bluest of blue” Los Angeles County.
“We know, specifically from a business perspective, that the number of Black Republicans is pretty small,” Rankin noted. “We remain undaunted, though, in broadening our outreach to all of Black California to register and vote first and foremost. We created the LRA to increase our numbers and to make our voices heard so that we can have a seat at the table.”