- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

NAACP delegates and members said they are “looking hard” at the Republican Party and its slate of black candidates this year, but most are not ready to embrace the party’s politicians or its policies.

“We are trying to bridge this gap between Republicans and the NAACP — who knows what the future may bring — but right now we just don’t want to break a good thing with people who we know will vote in favor of our issues,” said Yvonne M. White, NAACP state conference president of Michigan.

Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which gathered in Washington this week for its 97th annual convention, cited concern over President Bush’s recent judicial nominations and Republicans’ anti-affirmative-action efforts as reasons not to switch from their traditional backing of Democrats.

“There has to be a commitment to say that you will support the issues important to me — affirmative action, minimum wage increase, health care for all — and that is the greatest concern for us,” said Aonie Gilcreast, political action chairman for the Flint, Mich., NAACP branch.

Black Republicans are running for statewide office in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, where Keith Butler is challenging Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat.

Mr. Gilcreast admitted that he was considering Mr. Butler, something unthinkable a few years ago.

“Reverend Keith Butler has met with some of the branches, and he has a black church,” but he has to clarify what he means when he calls for “‘affirmative access’ over affirmative action,” said Mr. Gilcreast.

Several NAACP members did praise Republican efforts to end the so-called death tax and expand business and home ownership opportunities in the black community, as well as the ongoing outreach efforts by Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.

Jenkins Odoms, NAACP state conference president for Maryland, expressed hope for Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican running for the Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

“He has been effective in working with minority contractors and black businesses getting them contracts and the money they need,” Mr. Odoms said.

Mr. Odoms said Mr. Steele has been held back from speaking out on black issues by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and that he isn’t sure a black Republican in the Senate would hold much sway.

“And that is what concerns me about him reaching the Senate, because when I ask if he will be able to be a Republican and vote for civil-rights-minded judges, I have to say no,” he said.

Whether it is voting rights, ending racial profiling and police brutality or more equity in judicial trials, the NAACP membership is fearful that more judges chosen by Republicans will erode enforcement of civil rights.

Anger over the 2000 and 2004 elections was prevalent at the convention, whose theme was “Voting Our Values, Valuing Our Votes,” and no candidate will suffer from it more than Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican running for governor.

“Mr. Blackwell has refused to talk with us; even when we had a hearing in Toledo on the voting situation there, everyone of importance was there except him,” said WilliAnn Moore, Toledo branch president.

Mr. Blackwell served as Ohio’s Bush-Cheney campaign co-chairman while at the same time administering the election, after which there were reports of long lines in black polling districts, machines not arriving to the polling places on time, and polls closing with people in line waiting to vote.

“The state legislature is now considering a voter ID law requiring a state-issued, photo identification to vote to stop illegal aliens and others from fraudulently voting, but that has never been an the case and not one to the extent that the local election boards can’t handle,” said Art Slater, NAACP Ohio State Conference political action chairman.

While Mr. Blackwell has argued that he is not the author of the law, Mr. Slater said, “We have not heard any objections from him.”

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