Today, Ken Barnes—a Republican that I have known for many years—had a piece published in the Sacramento Bee that deserves comment for many reasons. The letter is his farewell to the Republican Party. Barnes left much unsaid in his letter. I would like to fill in a few details that he left unstated and analyze his argument in the piece.
I was one of those rare species: a black Republican, the guy willing to spit into the wind of conventional thought, who was often showcased on camera at party events to prove inclusiveness.
But as a proud black man, I can no longer be a member of the Republican Party.
Being a Republican has long been a part of my personal and professional identities, so leaving the party is a difficult and emotional decision.
In 1998, as a young man searching for what I believed were shared values, I cut ties with the Democratic Party and became a Republican. Democrats, in my view, had become unwelcoming to those holding center-right views not in lockstep with the party, and it was my belief that through hard work, the Republican Party could be utilized as a vehicle for improving our community.
For the next 13 years, I dedicated myself to growing the conservative base of the Republican Party, and in the process bound myself in emotion and deed.
During that time, I worked on behalf of Republican candidates at all levels, from presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, on down to local elections.
I have had the pleasure of serving as president of the Sacramento Republican Assembly, a term as a member of the California Republican Party executive committee, and most recently as treasurer of the Sacramento County Republican Party.
Like Ken, I was once a member of the Sacramento Republican Assembly. When we attempted to form a CRA chapter in southern Sacramento County, Ken was one of many that opposed the move. I have occasionally been a delegate to the California Republican Party convention; however, unlike Ken I have never served on the Executive Committee of the State Party. I suspect that it would be a colossal frustration to be part of that group.
Lastly, Ken and I both have served on the Sacramento County Republican Party (aka Central Committee). Ken was one of four Treasurers to serve in the last term. Once it was clear that he took the job seriously, he was thrown under the proverbial bus like many others that pledged themselves to Chair Sue Blake. They literally would not let him speak to the financial condition of the County Party and ignored any recommendations that he tried to make to help the group stay financially solvent. When the new committee was seated, he wasn’t even allowed to give a final financial report to the group even though he was present at the meeting with multiple copies of the report ready for distribution.
If memory serves correctly, when the Obama cartoon of the watermelon patch at the White House was posted on the old Sacramento County Party website, Ken was the first one to complain and get it taken down.
Barnes also was the person that applied to run for the Los Rios Community College District that went to court when Deborah Ortiz was allowed on the ballot even though she did not file for the office until after the filing deadline. I know that Barnes spent over $15,000 in legal fees to fight this and lost even though he was clearly in the right. He got little support from any of his fellow Republicans. Much of the 400 hours mentioned below was probably related to the legal fight and campaign activity.
Last year alone, I donated more than 400 hours of my time to the Republican Party and made financial contributions to a number of Republican candidates.
As of late, however, when I look at myself in the mirror there is one question which perplexes me: Can I, in good conscience, remain affiliated with an organization whose message purveyors of racism and bigotry find attractive?
Generally speaking, Republicans are decent people, and naturally, many of my closest friends vote Republican. As with any large organization or group, there will always be people at the fringes who hold views that are not representative of the body.
An organization cannot control the behavior of each individual actor, but it can control its response to abhorrent conduct.
The latest incident in a string of tawdry, race-based actions was the promotion of a racist cartoon by elected Orange County Republican Party Central Committee member Marilyn Davenport. The cartoon depicted President Barack Obama and his parents as chimpanzees, while simultaneously implying that the president is not a legitimate American, but rather an African-born interloper.
While the Orange County GOP chairman and a number of other committee members were quick to condemn the image and Davenport, what’s disturbing is the incredible number of people who continue to defend Davenport’s actions as well as the cartoon itself.
Had this been an isolated event, it could be set aside as a mere aberration. However, when placed in the context of similar offenses by the same self-identified tea party-conservative Republicans, there emerges a disturbing pattern of extreme intolerance.
Ken, my point in using the two photos that I included in this post is that much worse was done to George W Bush and there was never any attempt on the Democrat side of the isle to reign-in these folks. You are holding us to a standard that does not even exist—let alone constrain—the other guys. If you don’t believe me Google “George W Bush monkey” and click on images.
Using the same reasoning applied here, I next expect you to renounce Christianity because there are hypocrites in the Church and some folks have done wrong in the name of the Church.
Ken also mixes the Tea Party and the Republican Party. While many folks may overlap both groups, the Tea Party encompasses folks that would never identify themselves with either the Democrats or Republicans. I have been to many Tea Party functions and never seen anything racist. Opposition to the current President is due to his policies not his race.
Over the past two years, we have seen Republicans use long-held racist imagery in portrayals of Obama. The president has been depicted as a communist witch doctor, a man inclined to plant watermelons on the White House lawn, and we watched in disbelief as his face was placed on an “Obama Buck Food Stamp” along with stereotyped pictures of fried chicken, barbecue ribs, Kool-Aid and the obligatory watermelon.
Again, go on Google and you will see many of these things with George W Bush. Some of these things listed by Barnes in the paragraph above are not racial references. Since the first George Bush introduced “voodoo economics” into the political lexicon before Ken was probably born and Obama has as much hope as a witchdoctor of making his policies work I could see someone trying to make that work; especially with the birth certificate non-sense in the mix. I think it would be in poor taste but does that mean it has to be racist? I’m not sure. Yeah, I already mentioned the watermelon cartoon. As for Obama Buck Food Stamp, I remember Bill Clinton being on the three dollar bill and the million dollar one also. With Obama in charge, more people are on food stamps now than at any time since the program began, this is definitely fair game and absolutely true. While I am conceding that watermelon, fried chicken and ribs are stereotypical foods for blacks, Kool-Aid is not. This again harkens back even further than “voodoo economics” to Jim Jones and the mass suicide. It is a fact that many support Obama solely because of irrational reasons such as his race. It can be argued that blindly following this lightweight regardless of his policies is “drinking to Kool-Aid”.
What does any of this have to do with public policy or conservative values? Here is a man who excelled academically at the finest schools in the world, has a wonderful in-tact family, worked hard and rose to become president of the United States. Yet in spite of his accomplishments, the president is still labeled an illegitimate, socialist, African witch doctor and has his face superimposed on a chimpanzee.
With all due respect, Obama has never released his academic records so the claim of Obama excelling is an assertion without any basis in fact. How hard he worked to become president is a debatable proposition. He was in the second year of his first term in the US Senate when he decided to run. Obama clearly is lacking in real world experience when it comes to economic policies and most other aspects of the job. He is at the very least a socialist, while communist or fascist seem closer to the mark. It really comes down to who owns the means of production, the government or industry controlled by the State. Clearly whatever he is, capitalist is not one of the descriptions.
If this can be done to a black man who is the leader of the free world, how long will it be before fellow Republicans insert my face on a chimpanzee?
Ken, it was done to a white president first. I don’t believe in Darwin so the thought of doing such a thing is not in my personality. We are the party that freed the slaves and gave blacks the voting rights act and a score of other civil rights reforms so your accusation is without merit.
These behaviors also raise larger issues for African Americans and other minority groups within the GOP. How can I look my parents in the eye and tell them I’m a Republican in spite of these offenses? If he were still living, could my Latino father-in-law be proud that his daughter supports the GOP, in spite of the constant anti-Latino rhetoric that comes from the party? Can gay family members reconcile my support of a party that seeks to strip them of their basic human rights?
Ken, Republicans—at least the conservative ones that I hang-out with—do not see people as groups and categories. Those folks are in the other party. I don’t care about your race or gender, just do you have ideas to help the country or hurt it. On the whole republicans are better on the issues that make this country great. Republicans are not anti-Latino. We are in favor of folks following the rules to get here. Yes, the immigration system is broken but that is a federal issue which they are unwilling to fix. The problem is that immigrants to our country are no longer assimilated into the culture because the unifying portions of that culture are under attack. You know this because we have spoken about this before. As for gays, they are stripping me of what it means to be married. They are the ones destroying the culture both on marriage and on the life issue. To say sexual perversion is wrong is not a denial of “basic human rights” it is a fact. Gays are under God’s judgment and need repentance not affirmation. I believe in family values not an Orwellian attempt to redefine “marriage” and “family” to be more inclusive. Again, if you have so much trouble with the Scriptures then perhaps you need to abandon Christianity as well because now your problem is with God not the Republican Party.
These are not issues which pit moderate against conservative views, but rather consequential matters which transcend political positioning and speak to universal human values.
There are a number of Republicans (and Democrats) who will view my switch to “decline to state” as a net gain for the Democratic Party. However, I reject the theory of zero-sum politics which claim we live in a binary world of Democrats and Republicans, where a lack of support for one side works only to empower the other.
Having now been active in both major political parties, I’ve discovered the common prohibited activity is critical thinking.
President Ronald Reagan once famously said, “I did not leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me,” and I can now say that I have been abandoned by both Democrats and Republicans.
In order to stay true to myself, my family and values, the only rational, responsible option is independence.
The first thing I read in Ken’s conclusion is that he is without hope. Yeah, it’s discouraging to be a Republican now. Since Ken wrote this it has gotten worse too. Look at the new maps released by the redistricting group. The California Republican Party dies in November of next year if things stay like they are. God has called me to work in the Republican Party and the good news is that the results are up to Him not me. I just have to be faithful to do my part. My job is to obey. The fact that Ken is quitting saddens me, but I was glad I knew him when he thought he could make a difference.