Former Oklahoma Congressman Urges GOP to Focus More on Minority Issues
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
The Republican Party cannot survive unless it makes more inroads among Blacks and other minority groups, says former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts.
Watts, a Republican, spoke to an audience of about 175 at a dinner in downtown Little Rock, held as a fund-raiser for Asa Hutchinson, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor.
“We cannot sustain ourselves as a party if we don’t do better in those non-traditional constituencies,” says Watts, one of only a handful of nationally known Black Republicans. “I think we have to understand that the question for our party in the 21st century is, ‘Why is it that so many Black people who agree with Asa Hutchinson and would agree with us as Republicans don’t vote that way?’”
Over the next several years, Watts says, Republicans have a chance to appeal to more Black voters by focusing on issues ranging from home ownership to education.
“We need to say, ‘If you want an opportunity to own a home, if you want quality education for your children and if you want an entrepreneurial opportunity, come into our tent,’” he says.
Watts was the headliner at the $125 a plate event. Hutchinson, a former Arkansas congressman and official with the Department of Homeland Security, is so far the only Republican candidate for governor, and Attorney General Mike Beebe is the only declared Democrat.
Hutchinson says one of the reasons he asked Watts to speak in Little Rock was to highlight his campaign’s efforts to reach out to Black voters.
“I wanted J.C. to come … to send a message of diversity to our campaign,” Hutchinson says. “Certainly our campaign will reflect that. We want to make sure our campaign is very inclusive and has a vigorous minority foundation.”
According to Watts, Gov. Mike Huckabee had laid a foundation for building support among Black and Hispanic voters in the state. Nationally, Watts says, the party needs to focus more on issues such as the disparity in health care between members of minority groups and the country’s White majority, and funding for historically Black colleges and universities.
Citing Hutchinson’s post as homeland security undersecretary, Watts says Hutchinson has seen “up close and personal that there are people around the world that hate our guts.”
Watts dismisses criticism by the Arkansas Democratic Party, which has said that the 9/11 Commission’s final report raised concerns about Hutchinson becoming governor. The independent panel gave more F’s than A’s to the federal government’s anti-terrorism efforts since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“I think that’s stupid. To put that at Asa’s feet is a little weak,” Watts says. “Asa actually inherited this mess. He didn’t create it.”
— Associated Press
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