GOP panel discusses racial divide, how to woo blacks

A panel of Republican party loyalists discussed Monday the racial divide and how the GOP might better win support from black voters. The panel included pastor Mike Gonzalez of Columbia; Rep. Peter McCoy; Star Parker, director of CURE; and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who arrived late. Other panelists were businessman and political operative Rufus Montgomery and South Carolina GOP Chairman Matt Moore. Rep. Samuel Rivers moderated.

In an event billed as a conversation about “bridging the racial gap,” a panel of Republican leaders gathered at North Charleston City Hall to explore ways their party could reach black voters.

It was generally agreed that the GOP needs to better address the issues of poverty and race.

The event was organized by Rep. Samuel Rivers, the only black Republican in the S.C. Legislature, and by Star Parker, director of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, a conservative think tank in Washington that advocates for school choice, market solutions to poverty and self-reliance.

Other participants were Rep. Peter McCoy, Columbia pastor Mike Gonzalez, businessman and political operative Rufus Montgomery, S.C. GOP Chairman Matt Moore and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who joined the event as it was concluding.

Rivers moderated, asking panelists about how the GOP can gain the confidence of blacks and what to do about disparities in the criminal justice system.

Parker said liberals have created a welfare state that hurts black people.

“The narrative in the black community is: Your problems are somebody else’s fault,” she said. But the problems stem from the dissolution of the black family, she said.

What’s needed is more school choice, the restoration of conservative values, market-based solutions and individual initiative, she said.

McCoy said it was important “to start the conversation” about race.

“I want the Republican Party to be a party of inclusion,” he said, adding that all the recent infighting during the presidential campaign is “bringing the country and the party down.”

Gonzalez said biblical truth should be the basis for good politics.

“Policies need to reflect truth, and the truth is that God made all men equal,” he said.

Montgomery said the GOP could win hearts and minds among black voters if its members spent more time in the black community.

Moore, acknowledging sentencing disparities between black and white defendants, said it’s important to reform the criminal justice system not only because it’s unfair but because the current system is very expensive.

He also reiterated the GOP’s emphasis on a free market able to provide entrepreneurs with opportunity to start businesses without being overly burdened by government.

Wilson noted that in the wake of the June 17 Emanuel AME Church shooting, members of the community “quit being white, quit being black ... we quit focusing on the things that divide us.” It’s too easy to pay attention to labels instead of individuals, he added. “My role as attorney general is to ensure all people ... have equal access to justice.”

About 25 people observed the panel discussion from the seats of city council chambers at North Charleston City Hall. The media was well represented and included Geraldo Rivera from Fox News. There was no Q&A with the audience.

A few who attended expected a more engaging discussion about race.

Ken Grimmage, who is black, said he was disappointed to hear the usual Republican Party arguments.

“When you’re talking about bridging the racial gap, that’s not partisan,” he said.