Bankole: Black voting bloc taken for granted

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

It was in 2013 when then-Democratic Party chairman Lon Johnson, seeking to unseat incumbent Mark Brewer, told me that he was running for the chairmanship of the party partly because he wanted to establish a Democratic Party office in Detroit.

My jaw almost dropped because I could not imagine that the Democratic Party would be operating without an office in the base of its largest constituency in the state.

That meant the Democratic Party for decades never had a marquee presence in the city that religiously delivers its largest number of votes election after election.

Since that encounter, I have been wondering if the party was deep-seated in hypocrisy and playing bait-and-switch politics with black voters.

This week, I was reminded of that interview when a story broke that less than 1 percent of senior Senate positions in the nation’s capital are held by African-Americans.

A December 2015 study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that there are no African-American chiefs of staff, legislative directors or communication directors in the Washington offices of any Democratic U.S. senators. The only black chief of staff in the Senate works for South Carolina Republican Tim Scott. The study also noted that overall only 24 of 336 senior Senate staff positions are held by people of color, including three blacks.

The Democratic Party claims to have the interests of blacks at heart, yet those numbers would indicate that even Democratic senators are not open to putting more blacks in senior roles in their offices. And we know that it is those senior aides who the senators defer to for help influencing and shaping legislation.

This explains why the Democratic status quo — including the top echelons of the party — are mostly out of touch with issues relevant to the black community and do not seriously understand the language and concerns of groups such as Black Lives Matter.

The absence of black senior staffers virtually assures no strong Senate pipeline to grassroots organizations like the BLM.

It is highly disappointing that the Democratic Party, which is eager to call out the Republican Party for acts of racism, would have no significant black presence in its highest levels of legislative power in Washington.

This is the height of liberal hypocrisy and Democratic exclusion. If the black constituency is key to the party and important for electoral victories around the nation then blacks should also be serving in positions of power in Washington.

The Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus should not have to make a written demand as it did last week demanding diversity in those ranks. We expect that the senators who brag about being of the party of the big tent would be a pragmatic conscience on inclusion.

There is no excuse for snubbing blacks when it comes to getting the benefits of their loyalty and participation in the political process.

In the business world, things are seen through the lens of cost versus benefit. If we apply that rule to blacks and the Democratic Party, the time has come for a revaluation of the relationship because black voters have gotten less for investing their blood and sweat in the party.

The party leaders should hang their heads in shame and correct this grievous injury. If not, black voters should remember this stain when they go to the polls next time.

The Democratic Party should not enter 2017 with the philosophy that blacks are good enough to vote for us but not good enough to be appointed to key posts in the U.S. Senate.

In light of the fact that the Republican Party does not constitute a compelling option for blacks and a third party has been historically proven to be unfeasible, it may be time to jettison the straight-ticket voting in favor of merit-based voting where the individual’s platform will be the focus and not the party itself.

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910AM weekdays at noon. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.