Friday, November 18, 2005

NAACP Head Joins GOP

Interesting news out of Florida:
For decades, Republicans have struggled to reach out to black Americans. But now in Orange County, the GOP has to reach no further than the NAACP.

As of this week, Derrick Wallace, head of Orange County's NAACP, has switched parties -- to become a Republican.

"I've thought about this for two years," Wallace said Tuesday afternoon, just a few hours after returning from the elections office. "This is not a decision I made yesterday."

It is, however, a decision that rang out like a shot among political circles.

Republican Party leader Lew Oliver described himself as "extraordinarily pleased," while Democratic leader Tim Shea said he was disappointed.

Wallace, a construction-company exec, was candid about the fact that his business life was a big part of his decision to change.

"It's purely a business decision. Ninety percent of those I do business with are Republicans," he said. "Opportunities that have come to my firm have been brought by Republicans."

To that, Shea responded: "I'm a little confused. Are we talking about the National Association for the Advancement of Construction Professionals -- or Colored People?"

Wallace elaborated that his "business" line of thought also referred to the NAACP. Behind many of the power desks in this town sit Republicans. And he said he wants his organization to be part of that structure. Just as importantly, he said, he didn't want people to immediately brand -- or dismiss -- NAACP concerns as synonymous with those of liberal Democrats. "I want this branch to be respected," he said.

Oliver said they already are, noting that all of the members of the GOP executive board joined the NAACP a few years back to show that they were serious about outreach. "We have taken pains to do our very best to reach out," he said.

But Shea and other Democrats have long maintained that Republican talk about inclusion is little more than that: talk. They cite GOP policy after policy -- on everything from voting rights to health care -- that disproportionately negatively affects blacks.

Wallace's party switch may not be a complete surprise. After his own long-shot bid for mayor of Orlando fell short in 2003, he twice supported Republican candidates for the post.

Still, Wallace's new GOP standing is historic for the NAACP -- an organization that is vastly Democratic.

"I don't think my doing this hurts anything. In fact, I think it helps," Wallace said. "But we'll hear what others have to say. I'm sure I will."

I don't see any evidence that this part of a broader trend, but it's fun to think so. As the battle over the estate tax shows, wealth blacks have the same concerns as wealthy whites, and they are unwilling to allow the Democratic Party to redistribute their hard earned fortunes.

The political economics of a possible trend are titillating. The Democratic Party has long taken the black vote for granted and this built in demographic is probably the only thing preventing a total collapse in southern states.