- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2000

House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts is pushing a campaign he says will make life better in America for blacks and black communities.

"Minority communities nationwide need to know there is a choice of views in Washington for helping them achieve the American dream," Mr. Watts said.

The Oklahoma Republican insists he isn't trying to sway votes, just hoping for success, but it is no accident the small group pushing this new agenda are all black and all Republicans.

"We're not looking to make black people Republican," Mr. Watts told five members of his "Kitchen Cabinet" at a meeting in his office yesterday morning. "We just want results."

The group included Charles Butler, a vice president at MassMutual; Tommy Ross, a vice president at Southern California Edison; Taylor Seque, a partner at the Detroit law firm Butzel Long; and Phyllis Berry Meyers, the executive director for Center for New Black Leadership.

Their plan is to push legislation that will encourage investment in economically disadvantaged areas and promote public-private partnerships in those areas. They also want to create "one-stop" shopping to help recruit minority interns and professional staff.

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, another black Republican working in the loose coalition with Mr. Watts, said at press conference later that for years conventional wisdom has been that "Democrats take you for granted and the Republicans just ignore you. This is a complete reversal of that."

Recruiting blacks or even toning down black antipathy to the GOP has been a problem for Republicans since the 1960s.

And recent gaffes by Republican presidential candidates speaking at Bob Jones University without criticizing its policy of racial segregation in marriage, and not taking a stand against the Confederate flag "don't help," Mr. Watts conceded reluctantly to reporters.

Speaking at a related National Conference of Black Republicans award ceremony yesterday, former Sen. Edward M. Brooke, Massachusetts Republican, said: "I am not ashamed of the party. I am ashamed at some of the pronouncements … from the members of the party."

Mr. Brooke warned against the "barrenness" of rigidity, materialism and secularism, and urged current party leaders to "integrate the party" and broaden its base.

Despite his criticisms, Mr. Brooke said the party's core values are sound.

"I urge fellow black Republicans to continue to stay the course, increase your numbers in the towns, precincts, wards and states," Mr. Brooke said. He said it is not sufficient to merely hang banners; black Republicans must become part of the policy arm to bring about change.

Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson, who listened to Mr. Brooke's speech, told reporters: "I don't exactly know what was on his mind, what was bothering him."

Mr. Nicholson said he was concerned about Mr. Brooke's criticism and plans to speak with him. An aide to Mr. Nicholson later called The Washington Times to confirm that a meeting between the two had been scheduled.

Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's treasurer and a black Republican, said much of what Mr. Brooke said was just wrong.

"I'm an unabashed conservative, and it's clear Mr. Brooke is an unabashed liberal," Mr. Blackwell said.

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