Race Politics: A Clumsy Way to Woo Minority Voters

By Rosenstiel, Thomas | Newsweek, March 6, 1995 | Go to article overview

Race Politics: A Clumsy Way to Woo Minority Voters


Rosenstiel, Thomas, Newsweek


NEWT GINGRICH HAS AN IMPORTANT place for minorities in his master plan to transform the GOP into America's majority party. At one point in the videotape of his GOPAC training seminars for aspiring Republican candidates, Gingrich declares, "If we ever learn to reach out to blacks and Hispanics, the candidate of the left will drop to 30 percent, literally just plummet." Gingrich may be right. There are signs that significant numbers of Hispanics and African-Americans are becoming more conservative. But judging from the actions taken by House Republicans last week, the policies of Gingrich's party seem destined to drive minorities right back to the Democrats.

Gingrich does have a PR plan to woo black voters. An internal document entitled "GOP Minority Outreach Strategy," obtained by NEWSWEEK, calls for the GOP to "promote" its minority House members--all six of them--at press conferences, in action on the floor of the House and through informal TV responses to the president. It advocates finding minorities to testify at congressional hearings and creating a GOP mailing list of minority groups.

But the "outreach" strategy isn't backed up by any policies to help ordinary black voters. "When you look at the Contract," admits Horace Cooper, an African-American who is a top aide to Majority Leader Dick Armey, "on its face there are not a lot of things that say why black Americans should vote for the Republican Party." Sensitive to such criticism, Gingrich recently created a group to devise a more substantive approach. A cochair of the task force, J. C. Watts, the House GOP's lone black freshman, says he wants to "put teeth in our rhetoric." Watts talks about the need to find some way to encourage capitalism in poor areas. But it's too soon to say what the task force might recommend.

In the meantime, Republicans are cutting programs that have traditionally benefited minorities. Last week, as House Republicans finally got down to fulfilling their promise to scale back the federal government, almost all the $17 billion in "rescissions" approved by various House committees fell on the poor, a disproportionate number of whom are minorities. House Republicans wiped out most federal public-housing programs, lead-paint removal, rent subsidies for the poor, summer jobs for poor kids. Yet the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, which together cost $340 million and have been roundly denounced by the GOP as wasteful bastions of liberalism, were cut only $5 million each. Democrats called the one-sided cuts "unconscionable." HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros predicted 32,000 families would be made homeless.

Block grants: Republicans responded that they are only cutting bureaucracy. They insisted that the programs for the poor will survive but that they will be administered locally, through block grants to states. Nonetheless, most of the block grants, like school lunch programs, will be smaller than the federal programs they replace, and many others, such as the HUD programs, will vanish altogether. Republicans had always planned to cut welfare programs, which they claim hurt rather than help the poor. But moderate Republicans feel that lawmakers have failed to take the second step of welfare reform--creating an alternative such as workfare. …

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