In his famous Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we live in a country founded on the proposition that we are all created equal. Although our nation has made remarkable strides since that 1863 speech and we remain the envy of the world, the party of Lincoln still remains less diverse than it did during reconstruction – the period immediately following the Civil War when we sought to redress the inequities of slavery.
Between 1863 and 1877, there were more than 1500 African-Americans who held political office at the federal, state, and local level. Today, only a microscopic fraction of that number exists in areas all across the country.
Here in Ohio, there are no African-American Republicans serving in the House or Senate. This lack of representation makes it extremely difficult for GOP candidates like Shay Hawkins, a Cleveland native who not only served as Senator Tim Scott’s (R-SC) senior tax and economic policy advisor but was also one of the driving forces behind what would eventually become President Trump’s much lauded Opportunity Zones Program. Despite winning his primary race, Hawkins has yet to receive support from two-term Speaker of the House, Larry Householder.
Is there something inherently disqualifying about the experience of an adjunct economics professor, lawyer, and Capitol Hill Trade and Tax Counsel? Are there obvious racial motivations behind why the weight of the GOP caucus has not been thrown behind him? In response to both of those questions, I’d say no.
However, it does suggest that the GOP leadership has a blind spot which handicaps its ability to build a larger base of support within the African-American community. So when there is a national discussion on how to address race-related issues, our State party has no members who can appropriately represent and advise our white allies on how to engage in these conversations without sounding insensitive and being accused of striking the wrong tone.
How do we move forward?
If the Ohio Republican party is vested in becoming one that reflects the greatness and is representative of the people who live here, it has to put in the work. State leaders must do a much better job recruiting and training minority candidates to run at every level of government. I encourage statewide officeholders and local County parties to make the concerted effort and bring minorities onto their leadership teams. The Party should follow the lead of Governor Mike DeWine, who has created a blueprint by having the most diverse senior gubernatorial staff in Ohio’s history.
There’s also a role for Republican voters. Contact your elected officials and demand that the Grand Ole Party be more diverse and recognize how America’s best can be found right in our own backyard. We must recognize that as more minorities flee inner cities and move to the suburbs, they are much more likely to continue supporting candidates who look like them – something Democrats have honed in on.
Obviously, there is no cure-all that can right the wrongs of the past. But I do believe that when combined, these suggestions will help motivate our future leaders to commit themselves to public service and by default, the GOP. The party of Lincoln has a chance to move the Buckeye State in a direction that reflects the greatness our country offers.
The question is, are we ready?
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