Does Arizona's Democratic Party Take Black Voters For Granted?

Published: Thursday, August 8, 2019 - 1:53pm
Updated: Thursday, August 8, 2019 - 6:30pm
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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Last month a jury found that a former state Senate staffer had been the subject of racial discrimination. Talonya Adams, a black attorney, had been a member of Democratic staff under now-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. That fact prompted a scathing op-ed in The Arizona Capital Times that criticized the Democratic Party's treatment of black voters, who the authors said have "systematically been rendered invisible, invaluable and inconsequential."

LAUREN GILGER: The criticism of state Democrats comes at a time when the nation is scrutinizing the party's relationship with people of color, especially as Democrats look to swing at key Republican seats. And joining us now to talk more about Arizona's part in this debate is Democratic State Rep. Reginald Bolding and president of the Roosevelt School District Governing Board Lawrence Robinson. Welcome to the show, both of you.

REGINALD BOLDING: Thanks for having us.

LAWRENCE ROBINSON: Thank you.

GILGER: And I want to jump right into that kind of central question here, which is do you think that Democrats in Arizona and the party in Arizona is taking black voters and the work that they do for the party for granted?

BOLDING: Well, you know there's always been a conversation with regards to African-American voters in the political process, whether we're talking about Democrats or Republicans. I think at its essence, black voters want to make sure that they have a seat at the table. They want to make sure that their issues are heard, and they want to make sure that someone is actually listening. Whether you're Republican or Democrat, I think that it's no secret that African-American voters have been the most reliable group for Democrats consistently. You know 91-plus percent of black voters vote Democratic. So now we definitely want to amplify that message.

ROBINSON: And I think it's personal, to build on what Rep. Bolding spoke about because, for example, Talonya Adams, Rep. Bolding and myself have been friends alongside a lot of the up-and-coming young professional class of African-Americans who are not only running for office but who are also occupying staff positions. I have served Mayor Stanton in his administration. I've been in the House Democratic Caucus staff, situated in the basement under the House of Representatives here at the Capitol. And I know these players, as does Rep. Bolding. And so the problem becomes is that we are amplifying or at least we're just mapping over the same problems that women and people of color have, not only in the parties but in the workforce. And at the end of the day, that's what it's about is that opportunity must follow and flow to everybody. And if you're a woman, and particular if you're a woman of color — which I think both of our mothers experienced, Rep. Bolding and I — the discrimination that flows from having those two identities, then you're at a disadvantage. That didn't just start for Talonya Adams, but that discrimination is following those identity groups. And that's the problem.

GOLDSTEIN: So if we look at the big picture of politics, I think a lot of feel like politics is a different animal. How much of this comes down to wanting something in return, deserving something in return for for loyalty, for dedication to a party and how much of it is as, Rep. Bolding, you said, about having a seat at the table and making sure that ideas, equality, fairness are all there?

BOLDING: You know, it's both. When you think about those who are running for office, you make promises. We often see the slogan, "promise made, promise kept." And there's a reason why you see that slogan so constant in politics. It's because those individuals who you're out campaigning for their vote — you're speaking to issues that they care about. And the single most reason why they are electing you there is because you're going to fight for those issues. And if you're not fighting for those issues, then I think when you're out campaigning on the trail, you need to have a different message. And that's what African-American voters are saying. They they are saying that in some instances you've seen Democrats talk about issues that directly impact African-Americans, but in other instances you don't. And during this presidential election, during 2020, it is no longer an opportunity where African-American voters are asking for people to speak to their issues. They're demanding it, and they're saying, "if our issues aren't addressed, then we're done we're going to a different candidate.".

ROBINSON: And where I just think we need to be careful is that we need to attach a new lens, as new African-American leaders, to the underlying causes. I know, for example, now Secretary of State Hobbs, she has worked on felon reinfranchisement. She's worked on issues that help women who are in the workforce have all of the right resources to raise their families — which is often an additional burden with women — that they haven't had under law before. And so I just think that, as an African-American community, we need to not just blame the person who is the titular head of any of these organizations. We also need to make sure that we hold their feet to the fire to pass policy that helps working women and particularly women of color who are working.

GILGER: So does that policy mean as much or mean anything if, though, there isn't enough representation in the actual party or within that within the rank, in the staffs, etc.?

ROBINSON: Well, my my grandma always used to say, "You may be my color, but you're not my kind." And I think that we need to make sure that we don't just map over our leadership. You know, the fact that once we have a seat at the table, we know all things are not going to be equal or good. I could rattle off — I know what Rep. Bolding is doing that is positive in the community and other leadership — but it doesn't always come from people who look like us. Then again, if our workforce doesn't also reflect the fact that the 91% percent of African-American voters are loyal to the party, and the party gets to put positions in based in part on which of those candidates most understand that political party, then no, the Democratic Party is just as bad as any other employer out there that employs discriminatory tactics.

BOLDING: Absolutely it's imperative that you have someone from communities that you're campaigning in, that you're making promises to. It's almost an insult if you don't. You know, one thing I've always heard African-Americans say is that we don't want people to pick our leaders for us. We're capable and comfortable doing that, and I think part of that is making sure that you have representation.

GOLDSTEIN: Rep. Bolding, where we are at in 2019 in terms of style and approach because perception is big, in terms of what people — I'm going to say the general public — is comfortable with? Is some of this about that comfort doesn't matter, that it's about finding a balance between boldness and gradual progress? Or are we at a point based on the discrimination that you've both experienced — we're talking about Ms. Adams' experience, all these things that go on — is there a feeling of an extra desire to be more out there in part because of who's in the White House?

BOLDING: You know, that's a great question. And I think this is many times a debate that happens within the Democratic Party of what's too aggressive. What what should you say? What should you not say? I can speak from my identity as an African-American man that not being aggressive in a language that you use toward a particular party hasn't got us much more than being aggressive. In fact, when you look at history, when you talk about people who are speaking out on issues — those who are marching, those who are advocating, those who are organizing — that's when you've actually seen change. Contrary to this belief that if you just stay quiet and wait, eventually your turn will come, eventually we'll fix everything that's right. You know, power never concedes anything without a demand. And you have to demand that you not only have a seat at the table, that you have representation — whether that's a staff, whether asked as elected officials — we have to be at a point in a position now where we have to speak up because what we've seen historically is that being silent on these issues have never worked.

ROBINSON: And I think we also have to build in tandem with speaking up. When we begin to dissolve the bonds that hold us together — neighborhoods and locally. And then I look at this through public school districts. When you don't know your neighbors, when you don't have neighbors who then raise their kids with their neighbors' kids and form networks and social intelligence, and they don't have someone to rely upon for a reference or for a tap on the shoulder about the next job coming up — when those basic bonds broke down as well, folks aren't going to climb that social ladder. And so we need to make sure that we have intact networks that look and feel diverse and that include all of us, so that we can all move up that ladder together.

GOLDSTEIN: One point that came up during the Corporation Commission race I don't know if people thought about Sandra Kennedy solely as an African-American woman or not, but Kiana Sears was also running as well. What sort of impact could seeing more women of color either running or even being elected — do you see that having an impact over the next couple of election cycles?

BOLDING: I mean when you look at right now across this country, you've seen African-American women have historic gains with regards to elected positions, particularly in executive roles such as mayor. Whether we're talking about Baltimore, Atlanta or things of that nature, we've seen African-American women have huge roles. Commissioner Kennedy is continuing to do the work as an African-American woman and has many times been the highest ranking Democrat in the state. So I think the more that you see African-American women who are in positions of authority, who are doing effective jobs, it's going to make sure that people in the public realize that they are just as capable if not more than other folks were there.

ROBINSON: And they should run. They're surviving, they're thriving, and I think that type of leadership is what everybody's looking for. I think African-American women have a lot of those experiences, more in spades than others. And then I think can translate that experience into representing everybody who needs a fair shot and an ability to move up.

GILGER: So, probably the last question we have time for then, but sort of a broad one. So both of you have mentioned 2020 and the way that this is playing out on the national scale. Do you think what's happening here in Arizona is unique, or do you think that this is sort of another example of the same debate that the national Democratic Party is having and you're seeing play out on debate stages?

BOLDING: Well, there is a reason when you look at the major presidential candidates — particularly in the Democratic Party — there is a reason why they have African-Americans as high level staffers this year. It's an issue. Not only do they want to make sure that African-American issues are heard, they also want to see people that look like them in positions of influence in positions of power. I would say if there is any elected official that wants to have a history or a long history or a long legacy or wants to continue to build, they need to step back and say that, wait, in order for me to do this, I have to make sure that the most consistent, the most loyal base, which has been African-American voters, they feel comfortable with the decisions that I'm making because I'm actually asking for their vote. As we look in 2020, 2022, 2024 — those candidates who are running for a local, state, federal office — they need to have people who are representative of a very loyal voting base.

ROBINSON: But when you come one step closer into Arizona, you do realize on top of that, we do have more localized problems that look like Arizona problems. There is a perception out there among African-Americans that because we do not have the same numbers as our Latino brothers and sisters in terms of voting magnitude in Arizona, that we're forgotten or left aside. Or that one "minority" is chosen over another "minority." You looking to the ranks of the Democratic Party, and there is a perception that they are a central city-Paradise Valley-Tempe party that's run by primarily white folks and that the other communities here don't have a seat at the table as prominent. And so there are other things I know that the Democratic Party needs to acknowledge as well. It's a larger problem that reflects back on the whole community itself.

GOLDSTEIN: So much more to talk about. We'll stop the conversation there for now, gentlemen. Thanks. Lawrence Robinson, president of the Roosevelt School District Governing Board, and Democratic State Representative Reginald Bolding, thanks for joining us today.

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