Hooper: Democrats need to get out the black vote

Ask Democrats about the importance of the black vote in the midterm elections and you might get a two-word response.

What vote?

It's a sad commentary, but it has only a degree of truth. Nationally and in Florida, black turnout was up in 2010 when compared with the turnout for the 2008 presidential election. It remains to be seen what this year will yield, but it's clear they will be pivotal in the gubernatorial race — if they turn out.

I have a friend who tries to explain why blacks in challenging situations don't come out. He cites the difficulty of getting to the poll when you have two jobs, the struggle to make ends meet and about then I just tune him out.

I can't accept any excuse for people, blacks or others, for not voting. It has never been easier, even with the attempts of the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to suppress the 2012 vote. If you can't find motivation in that attempted denial, do a Google search for "Edmund Pettus Bridge."

But I share an equal frustration for how some Democratic leaders willingly accept this midterm malaise with a shrug of the shoulders. More and more, it seems the political insiders and party leaders concede the low turnout instead of asking, how can we engage the group that could provide the tipping point?

Sure, it wasn't just blacks who helped President Barack Obama carry Florida, but they certainly played a significant role. Still, some of the party faithful I've spoken to seem content to try to help Charlie Crist regain the governor's mansion without significant input from that key constituent.

It strikes me as a sign that state and local Democratic party leaders take the black vote and blacks for granted. A chorus of denials surely will rise in a public discussion, but privately, it's "c'est la vie" with little remorse.

Look no further than the bottom-line results of Florida elections to understand the folly of such an attitude. Republicans have controlled the state Legislature since 1996 and the governor's mansion since 1998.

Any reversal must involve black Democrats and it needs to be about more than voter turnout. How can the party address the issue?

• Make blacks a bigger part of developing a strong bench. For years, Democrats have struggled to find viable candidates. Maybe it's because they have a narrow mind-set of seeing blacks as candidates only for traditional black seats. Surely, a black person could run in one of the county's suburban enclaves and be successful — we have a black president — and that could increase turnout.

• Make it easier for people of all colors to engage in party politics. The Democratic Executive Committees need to abandon some of their archaic rules and attendance requirements and make meetings more palatable and accessible. Diversity among its leadership needs to become the norm instead of the exception.

• Stop making public gaffes that alienate blacks. No matter the intent, the recent snub of the Rev. Manuel Sykes in Pinellas County — the Pinellas Democratic Party leader told Sykes he would be "persona non grata" if he followed through with plans to run for Congress — proved to be a misstep that reverberated across the bay.

Most of all, the party needs to get creative when it comes to turnout. It's no longer solely about candidates showing up in church pulpits or running ads in the black newspapers. The party needs to look at ways of getting blacks — and really all Democrats — to turn out in bigger numbers.

Maybe borrow a page or two from the Republicans, who never seem to struggle as much with turnout.

My suggestion? WEDU-Ch. 3 will air a special this month called Freedom Summer about the 700 volunteers who risked their lives canvassing Mississippi in 1964 to register black voters. The station will hold a special screening Tuesday at the Tampa Theatre and it premieres on the PBS station June 24.

I would try to get as many prospective black voters as possible to watch the film and understand the sacrifices that were made so they can vote today. The Tampa Theatre screening will include a registration drive and you could create watch parties on June 24 that could do the same.

In the interim, black Democrats need to realize they risk being marginalized if they don't get active for every election — national, state and local. Democrats need to realize they risk losing blacks to the GOP if they don't do a better job of engagement.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: Democrats need to get out the black vote 06/11/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2014 9:23pm]

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