The GOP’s Color Bind

Beyond noting the irony of an anti-affirmative action party promoting diversity, a New York Times report on successful efforts by state-level Republicans to recruit and elect candidates of color compels us to ask a few questions.

As Republicans took control of an unprecedented 69 of 99 statehouse chambers in the midterm elections, they did not rely solely on a bench of older white men. Key races hinged on the strategic recruitment of women and minorities, many of them first-time candidates who are now learning the ropes and joining the pool of prospects for higher office.

They include Jill Upson, the first black Republican woman elected to the West Virginia House; Victoria Seaman, the first Latina Republican elected to the Nevada Assembly; Beth Martinez Humenik, whose win gave Republicans a one-seat edge in the Colorado Senate; and Young Kim, a Korean-American woman who was elected to the California Assembly, helping to break the Democratic supermajority in the State Legislature.

In Pennsylvania, Harry Lewis Jr., a retired black educator, won in a new House district that was expected to be a Democratic stronghold; he printed his campaign materials in English and Spanish. Of the 12 Latinos who will serve in statewide offices across the nation in 2015, eight are Republican.

“This is not just rhetoric — we spent over $6 million to identify new women and new candidates of diversity and bring them in,” said Matt Walter, the executive director of the Republican State Leadership Committee. “Most of these chambers were flipped because there was a woman or a person of diverse ethnicity in a key targeted seat.”

That the GOP, on a state level, appears to recognize the merits of racial and ethnic diversity is good thing. What about the benefits of ideological diversity?

It is not clear yet where the new Republican elected officials fall on the ideological spectrum. Several who were interviewed for this article, including [newly elected New Mexico State Representative Sarah Maestas Barnes], said they were focused on economic issues like job creation, not social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Ms. Barnes said that she had made it clear to party leaders that she would entertain good ideas no matter which party floated them, and that she had been promised the freedom to vote her conscience.

Is that promise valid? What happens if these Republicans of color embrace views that might offend certain special interests or donors? What if they take a position ALEC doesn’t approve of? Will they be run out of town, the way heterodox Republicans are on a federal level (think ex-US Representatives Wayne Gilchrest and Bob Inglis)? What if they call out racism in the party?

Something tells me there’s a glass ceiling above this new crowd of diverse Republicans. If any of them step out of line ideologically, they will be bloodied by the shards of that ceiling as it falls on top of them.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.