Writing in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Jason Riley explains how Republicans could do a better job of attracting black support. Former Connecticut congressman Gary Franks, a former congressman from Connecticut who was the first black Republican elected to Congress in 60 years, is someone who has been thinking long and hard about that question.
During his time in the House, Franks put the Congressional Black Caucus to the test by fighting for welfare reform and lower tax rates, against the gerrymandering of voting districts, and more. (The Caucus ended up limiting his access to meetings.) Sadly, Franks lost his House seat in 1996 and a Senate bid against Chris Dodd in 1998. To think, he could have saved us from Dodd-Frank!
His aspiration today is to get the next Republican nominee 20–25 percent of the black vote. It is ambitious but not impossible, he thinks. Riley writes:
Given Mitt Romney and John McCain’s 6% and 4% showings among blacks in 2012 and 2008, respectively, that’s ambitious. But it’s worth recalling, said Mr. Franks, the progress that had been made on this front pre-Obama. George W. Bush won 11% of black voters, as did Ronald Reagan.
Moreover, said Mr. Franks, “throughout the 1990s and 2000s we had a number of Republican governors who did well enough in the cities to be able to capture the state. Tom Ridge did well enough in Philadelphia; John Engler did well enough in Detroit; Tommy Thompson did well enough in Milwaukee.” George Pataki in New York and John Rowland in Connecticut are other examples. “We had governors who got 18%, 16%, 21% of the black vote,” said Mr. Franks. “As governors, George Bush in Texas and Jeb Bush in Florida did pretty well with black voters.”
The liberal track record on black unemployment, poverty and urban violence is especially weak. “These things have worsened under Obama,” he said. “Talk about the kids in Baltimore and Chicago being shot. That’s what blacks want to hear about from Republicans. How would you change the situation? Democrats’ response to gun violence is to do something about guns. That’s ridiculous. When blacks were being lynched in the South, was the response to do something about ropes? Everyone knows this is about gangs and drugs and personal behavior.”
With that in mind, Republicans should use their political capital to end the war on drugs once and for all. As National Review’s editors explained almost 20 years ago in the February 12, 1996, issue, “the war on drugs has failed.” I agree. Despite spending over $1 trillion dollars to stop the stoner scourge, overall drug consumption has barely changed, some drug prices are falling due to technology and increasing supply, and drug addiction has gone up while seeking treatment has become more risky.
In addition, incarceration rates for drug offenses have skyrocketed since the 1980s due to mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, which rigidly determine who goes to prison and for how long. Nonviolent drug offenders now account for about one-fourth of all inmates in the United States, up from less than 10 percent in 1980. You would think that conservatives would be all over this issue considering that it destroys families and leaves children to be raised in single-family households. This is particularly true for low-income African-American families. Despite generally higher drug-usage rates among white Americans, African-Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for possession.
I also suspect that the black community is feeling the burden of overregulation like everyone else. Yesterday, Senator Cruz chaired a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts titled “Opportunity Denied: How Overregulation Harms Minorities.” He used his time to press the point that “overregulation is stifling opportunity for people who want to achieve the American dream.”
During the hearing, Harry Alford, the head of the Black Chamber of Commerce, told members that while he appreciates the benefits of some regulations, the impact of overregulation can be quite dramatic for the black business community. He had also interesting things to say about how many government programs such as the Small Business Administration and the Ex-Im Bank do nothing to help the black business community. You can read this testimony here.
Finally, we know the kind of change to black communities education reform could bring. Republicans should push for reforms to tie educational spending to students rather than schools. The school-choice movement formed around these ideas is helping a growing number of low-income children secure access to a high-quality education.