'New face' of the GOP shows cracks on issues
Party is reaching out to minorities, but many blacks want fine tuning of policies.
With her flowing pink chiffon ensemble and cornrow-like twists atop a smiling, confident face, Renee Amoore is not your father's typical Republican.Skip to next paragraph
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"You know how most Republican women have a nice bun in the back? Well, I decided to go up," says Ms. Amoore. "The vice chairman called me 'Pebbles' this morning."
Meet one of the new movers and shakers of the Grand Old Party. Amoore is director of the New Majority Council, the Republican National Committee's minority outreach arm.
As she travels around the country recruiting, the successful businesswoman embodies what she believes is the promise of the GOP: self-reliance, responsibility, and accountability.
But her enthusiasm carries with it an inherent conflict that analysts say the party must eventually address: whether, as many of its mostly white foot soldiers believe, the GOP's policies are fine as they are, or, as Amoore and other Republican minorities contend, they will need some adjusting as the party expands its ranks.
The answer will help determine whether the display of blacks and Hispanics at last week's GOP convention marks a historic new beginning for the party of Lincoln, or, as critics contend, was nothing more than politically expedient window dressing.
"There's a huge question if that stylistic change will bite with voters," says Ronald Walters, a political analyst at the University of Maryland at College Park. "The Republicans have some fairly strong issue hurdles to jump over."
But Amoore is determined to focus on what she believes are the party's benefits for minorities. Highest on her list: the GOP's stand on education and school vouchers.
Her parents, she explains, who only made it as far as the eighth grade, instilled in her the importance of a good education. Her mother cleaned houses along the wealthy "main line" in Bryn Mawr, Pa., so she could send her eight children to college.
"They taught us strong values of self-reliance, responsibility, accountability, and the need for a good education," she says. "That's why I'm so comfortable as a Republican - they're the values I was taught."
Her parents were Republicans as well, which at one time wasn't all that unusual in America.
Party of Lincoln
After the Civil War, most blacks were staunchly Republican. The Democrats in the South were the party that promoted Jim Crow and segregation.
That tide began to turn during the Depression. The Democrats' New Deal gave security to working Americans of all colors.
But while President Franklin Roosevelt was known to speak sympathetically about the need for civil rights, he was careful never to push a policy that would alienate Southern white Democrats, who supported segregation.
The greatest shift of African-Americans to the Democratic Party took place in the early 1960s, with the Passage of the Voting Rights Act.
From then on, the Democrats became champions of policies designed to help level the racially uneven playing field, while Republicans became associated with what is now called the "Southern strategy." To many, this political strategy exploited racial fear to generate a white backlash against the growing civil-rights movement.
The result: Today about 80 percent of black Americans identify themselves as Democrats, while only 15 percent say they're Republicans.
Amoore is determined to push that to at least 20 percent by November, to give Texas Gov. George W. Bush the edge he needs. But that could be a challenge.
For many African-Americans, that Republican legacy of opposition to civil rights still mars the party today. They're quick to point out that Bush's father used the infamous Willie Horton ad about a black furloughed prisoner during his campaign.
And many haven't forgiven the Texas governor for his visit to Bob Jones University, which forbade interracial dating, and his refusal to take a strong stand on the issue of the Confederate flag in South Carolina.
Ed Phelps, the owner of a successful graphic-design company and chief executive officer of Blackpolitics.com, has decided to watch the Republicans with an open mind. They're "willing to put us on the platform," but "they have a long way to go still," he says. "They've got to start looking at the impact their policies have on the less advantaged."
What disturbs Mr. Phelps most about the black Republicans he met at the convention last week in Philadelphia is that they all tended to be well off.
"There aren't any minority low-income constituents in the Republican Party, at least none that I've seen," he says.
Amoore is aware that's a problem. And as she works to spread her Republican message of individual empowerment, she's also raising money to help less-affluent blacks become party players.
Her goal is to change the face of the Grand Old Party, and with that, some of its underlying policies as well.
"We're talking about empowerment of African-Americans, and once the party sees who we are and where we came from, they'll understand that," she says.
But even with all of her enthusiasm, Amoore could run into some stumbling blocks.
When asked recently if the Republican Party needed to change its policies as it expands it ranks, Rep. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina hesitated.
"Does diversity mean rejecting your political tenets? I would say that's the ultimate question," he says. "And I don't want diversity efforts to be confused [with] abandonment of what we believe."
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