Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus addressed the National Urban League at its annual conference in Cincinnati on July 24 as part of the GOP’s campaign to engage Black voters.
Priebus reiterated his party’s recommitment to embracing and reaching out to the African-American community, one of the strategies which arose from the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project, an autopsy of the party following the 2012 elections.
“We want you to know that the Republican Party is listening and fighting for you. That’s why the RNC is in communities across this country, engaging with, listening to, and working to earn the trust of Black voters,” Priebus said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
The Republican leader said the party is determined to become a “national party” again, and they have engaged paid, on-the-ground staff making that case in every community on a full-time basis.
“As a party, we believe it’s wrong for anyone to be overlooked or taken for granted in our political process. And that’s what motivates me every day,” he said. “We’re serious about doing things differently.”
Priebus touted the work Republicans have been doing to address joblessness and other problems.
“America’s underemployment, especially Black America’s underemployment, is a crisis. But the commentators on TV tell us that the economy’s getting better. That’s because they don’t see the whole picture. They don’t see the people who are exhausted from looking for jobs that don’t exist,” he said.
The disparity between the national unemployment rate of 6.1 percent and the Black unemployment rate of 10.7 percent is “a problem we must address,” Priebus said.
“Republicans have offered solutions,” he added “In Washington and in state capitals, we’re working to get things accomplished.”
Priebus cited Republican contributions to the recently-enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity; the Second Chance Act,which was designed to improve outcomes for people returning to communities after incarceration; the LEAP Act, which aims to increase apprenticeships through a new federal tax credit for employers; the CAREER Act, which would improve job training programs to get workers the skills they need; and other economic empowerment initiatives.
Education reform also has to be part of the solution, he said.
“We need training and education reform more than ever,” Priebus said. “Educational access is the civil rights issue of our day. And school choice has to be part of the solution.
“The Republican Party believes that every parent in America should have the power to send their kids to the school of their choice,” he added. “The other party thinks a ZIP code should make that choice.”
Priebus also blasted the Obama administration for what he deemed a lack of support for minority and other small businesses.
“We’re the party that wants to celebrate our small business leaders and remove the barriers that keep them from growing and thriving,” he said. “It’s this administration that reduced the number of Small Business Loans to minority businesses—so that just 2.8 percent of SBA loans go to Black business owners, according to the SBA’s own numbers. That’s unacceptable.”
Priebus praised the National Urban League for its work on the ground, particularly its efforts to provide job training, resources and support.
“You’re changing lives and saving lives,” he said. “One of America’s great strengths is civic organizations like yours that accomplish incredible things.”
He thanked League President Marc Morial for creating an open line of communication between the two organizations and expressed his hope for future cooperation on addressing the needs of Americans.
“My hope is that Republicans can partner with groups like the National Urban League whenever and wherever possible,” he said.
In a previous interview with the AFRO, Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s senior vice president of advocacy and policy and director of its Washington bureau, said despite GOP leaders’ stated intentions, the party’s attempt to make inroads in the Black community will require more than words.
“It’s a great idea that they are outreaching but it will have to come with changes to their policies because that is what people are more concerned about,” he said.
For example, Blacks are severely underrepresented as delegates to RNC conventions, a trend which is reflected in the event’s resulting agenda.
“If you don’t have African Americans at the table then the policies don’t reflect the real needs and concerns of the African-American community,” he said.