PHILADELPHIA – Moments after delivering a keynote address at the NAACP national convention Monday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) expanded on the Democrats’ agenda regarding the Affordable Care Act, voter rights and the “transparent” efforts of Republican Party to make inroads into minority communities.
“I talked about the importance of making sure that we not roll back all of the progress we’ve been able to make over the past almost seven years under President Barack Obama’s administration, whether it’s the 16 million Americans who benefited from access to quality, affordable healthcare that they have not previously had, to voting rights, which is obviously right in the wheelhouse of the NAACP,” she said. “And to reiterate that we have to all stand and remain vigilant to ensure [voters are protected], whether its photo ID laws, or early voting hours, or weekend voting, or protecting the ‘souls to the polls Sundays’ [church-voter education effort].”
Schultz, who represents parts of Broward and Miami–Dade Counties, said the Republicans “are all in lockstep, led by their governors across the country,” to try to derail progress made regarding voter ID.
Shultz, as a veteran legislator, is intimately aware that voter ID is a lightning-rod issue, especially in her home state, which requires photo identification to vote.
According to the Florida Division of Elections, voters there will be asked to provide acceptable forms of identification; if voters there do not have an acceptable form of photo ID, they can still cast a provisional ballot. Pennsylvania is one of several states that do not require a photo ID at the polls.
Schultz reiterated her belief that Republicans, especially Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, are still “trying to throw obstacles” in the path of voters who would more likely vote Democrat.
To counter, the DNC is in the midst of a nationwide voter expansion program and working with organizations such as the NAACP and other allied groups, to help register voters and ensure they get to the polls.
Shultz took umbrage with the GOP presidential candidate slate in general – and with Walker in particular – for their positions on voter ID and what Shultz perceived as the party’s less than authentic recent catering of the African–American community.
“Scott Walker announced [his presidential candidacy on Monday], and whether it’s Scott Walker, or Rand Paul, or Jeb Bush, the Republicans are trying to make a show over their outreach to the African–American community, and I stress [that voters remember] you are dealing with a party that ignored the African–American and other minority communities for many, many years,” Shultz said.
“Now, they’re suddenly putting some window–dressing around their record, but when you have a guy like Rand Paul who opposes both the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act, a guy who says that we shouldn’t be giving special rights to people based on behavior like folks in the LGBTQ community, you have to recognize what people say and what they do are two separate things, and that both matter.”
The GOP has ramped up its outreach efforts both regionally and nationwide.
The Pennsylvania GOP recently appointed Ryan Sanders as its African–American inclusion director, to lobbying minority voters, particularly in Philadelphia, on the merits of the Republican agenda. The Republican National Committee recently embarked on a “Committed to Community” voter mobilization campaign, which is being promoted as a “first–of–its–kind collaboration between the RNC and a Black media outlet,” Radio One.
The national GOP apparently took a page out of Obama’s successful field team management playbook of connecting with the youth by partnering with a hip and trendy outlet.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus released a statement celebrating the pact.
“We are on the move,” Priebus said. “As chairman of the RNC we are engaging every voter, not taking any voter for granted, and not overlooking any opportunity to share our message. For too long, some have peddled the idea that only one party cares about communities of color. Not true. We have stepped up our ground game in communities of color.
“Expect to see more RNC staff in diverse communities, discussing our shared values and actively recruiting people from across the country,” Priebus added. “Voters will hear from us often and in Black media outlets like Radio One to share our message, mobilize new activists and ask for their vote.”
Shultz acknowledged that GOP play was “smart” and somewhat effective, but said voters need to be mindful of the combination of policy, message, strategy and tactics when considering the outreach efforts of the GOP.
“Republican policies haven’t changed at all,” Schultz said. “By way of example, just last week, at the same hour that the Confederate flag was coming down in South Carolina, the Republicans were trying to ensure and codify – beyond the president’s executive policy on flag flying in national parks – they were trying to put it into law and say that Confederate flags could fly or be displayed in national parks. This is in the same hour.
“There was so much backlash, because they got caught red-handed, that that entire interior appropriations bill was pulled from consideration,” Shultz continued. “That’s just one example of policy…their strategy is not to win the majority of African–American voters because they clearly recognize that won’t happen; their strategy is to erode the percentage of the [African–American] vote that the Democratic candidate for president gets. That is why, tactically, they are appointing and sending into African-American communities outreach people.”