This Colorado Republican Illustrates Why Her Party Lost the Black Vote

This Colorado Republican Illustrates Why Her Party Lost the Black Vote January 30, 2019

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, State Rep. Lori Saine stated the following on the Colorado House floor:

We have come a long way on that arc since the Reconstruction, since whites and blacks alike were in nearly equal numbers lynched for the crime of being Republican.

The context was a complaint—Lori argued that she was not allowed to make a MLKJ Day resolution because she was white. Presumably, her claim about lynching was made to argue that what really mattered was that she was a Republican—because political party affiliation, and not skin color, was the reason people were lynched in Reconstruction South.

I’m going to get back to Lori’s complaint toward the end of this post, because frankly, even apart from her comments about lynching, the existence of her complaint was tone deaf and off-putting—and illustrative of something she fundamentally does not understand about the history and current trajectory of the country’s two main political parties.

But let’s be completely clear here from the start: black people in the U.S. South were lynched because they were black. Or to be more specific, they tended to be lynched when they were perceived to have stepped out of their place. One way they did this was by voting or going into politics. White Southerners didn’t want to cede even a smidgeon of political power to black Southerners. When black Southerners went into politics, they tended to be Republicans, both because white Southerners controlled the Democratic party in the U.S. South and because the Republican Party was the party of abolition.

And yes, white Republicans were lynched in the South during Reconstruction—this was for supporting the rights of  black people, not for being Republican. Now yes, you could argue that at the time there was little distinction. Still, the underlying root cause was not party affiliation, but that party’s stance on race and on what Reconstruction should look like (i.e. giving freed slaves citizenship and rights equal to white Southerners). First and foremost, lynching was always about race.

I could go into detail about white people not being lynched at anywhere near the number of black people—we do have some data—but honestly, this is such a settled issue that recognizing it would legitimize it more than anything else.

I want to talk about something else. Time and again, today’s Republican Party appeals to the Civil War and Reconstruction to argue that they are the true not-racist political party. They point to a past when Southern Democrats were the ones doing the lynching and robbing black people of their right to vote, to prove that the Democratic Party is the one that actually has a problem with race. And I’m tired of it.

You don’t get to point at a perfect math score you got in 2nd grade to get out of doing your math homework in 9th grade. It does not work that way. You still have to do your math homework in the grade you’re in. And sometimes the kid who never turned in their math homework in 2nd grade turns things around and starts turning in their homework in 9th grade.

At some point, the parties flipped. Before, say, 1930, black voters overwhelmingly supported the Republican party; after, say, 1980, black voters overwhelmingly supported the Democratic party. In between, things shifted. Did you know that more Republicans supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than Democrats?

No really, check it out:

The House:

  • Democratic Party: 152–96   (61–39%)
  • Republican Party: 138–34   (80–20%)

The Senate:

  • Democratic Party: 46–21   (69–31%)
  • Republican Party: 27–6   (82–18%)

Roughly 63% of Democrats voted for the bill, and roughly 80% of Republicans voted for it. The shift in two political parties, however, was already well underway. Do you know how we can tell? By breaking it down by region.

Check this out:

The House:

  • Southern Democrats: 7–87   (7–93%)
  • Southern Republicans: 0–10   (0–100%)
  • Northern Democrats: 145–9   (94–6%)
  • Northern Republicans: 138–24   (85–15%)

The Senate:

  • Southern Democrats: 1–20   (5–95%)
  • Southern Republicans: 0–1   (0–100%)
  • Northern Democrats: 45–1   (98–2%)
  • Northern Republicans: 27–5   (84–16%)

Note: Southern refers to those from states that joined the Confederate States of America during the Civil War; Northern refers to those from every other state, not just those in the geographic north. 

Southern Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, yes, but so did Southern Republicans. If we exclude the South altogether, what we have looks far different: 95% of Northern Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 compared with 85% of Northern Republicans. More members of Congress from the South were Democrats than were Republicans, and it was members of Congress from the South opposed the Civil Rights Act in overwhelming numbers.

As The Root puts it:

[I]t wasn’t the Democrats who opposed the Civil Rights Act and the Republicans who favored it. Everyone supported the Civil Rights Act except the South. It was Southern politicians from both parties who voted against the legislation. The reason Republicans say they supported the bill is that there weren’t very many Southern Republicans in Congress in 1964.

Now, this isn’t to say that Southern Democrats weren’t a real problem. They were. They were a very big problem, in fact. But the interesting thing is that between 1964 and the 1990s, the South swung from Democrat to Republican—and not because black Southerners were suddenly voting Republicans in, because during this same time black Southerners switched from voting for Republicans to voting for Democrats. Why do that? Because the parties changed.

The Republican party became the party of racial obstructionism. The Republican party became the party that opposed busing and affirmative action. The Republican party, today, is the party that opposes criminal justice reform and accountability for police departments—and, yes, the party that opposes welfare and other programs that people of color, who are stuck in poverty in higher rates than are white Americans, disproportionately depend on.

The Republican party, too, became the party that says things like this:

 

We have come a long way on that arc since the Reconstruction, since whites and blacks alike were in nearly equal numbers lynched for the crime of being Republican.

That doesn’t exactly sound like someone who values racial justice. That sounds like someone who cares more about scoring rhetorical points for her political party. And it’s actually worse than that.

Saine claimed that a fellow lawmaker had been told she could not introduce a resolution honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because of the color of her skin. Saine made the following statements on the Colorado House floor:

“My colleagues, how can you redeem your marginalized voice by marginalizing ours? Our march towards justice is not over when a colleague is barred from introducing a resolution on this floor because of the color of her skin,” Saine said. “Our march of justice is not over when a member of this body who represents all races, creeds and religions is told that Martin Luther King does not represent her heritage.”

Other lawmakers have contested this assertion, stating that Leslie Herod and Jovan Melton introduced this year’s resolution because “they were also honoring former state Rep. Wilma Webb, who championed the bill that made MLK Day a Colorado holiday” and “Herod now represents Webb’s district and Melton is close friend.” The resolution was also sponsored by white lawmakers, including Saine. In other words, this wasn’t fundamentally about skin color.

Democratic State Rep. Leslie Herod and Republican State Rep. Lori Saine

But so what if it were? Can you imagine having the presumption, as a white lawmaker, to claim that you should be the one to introduce this year’s resolution honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when there are black lawmakers who want to do it? Why would you do that? What point could you possibly be trying to prove?

How is it not obvious that, say, if you are going to have a resolution honoring Italian heritage, you should give lawmakers who actually have Italian heritage the first chance to introduce the resolution? This is the same thing. This isn’t about rights. It’s about basic decency.

Most of the coverage of this moment has focused not on Saine’s complaint but on her bizarre claims about lynching. On those, Saine has only doubled down:

Lori Saine defended her claims of roughly equal Reconstruction Era lynchings in the comments of a posted video of her speech made on her official Facebook page.

“Friends, if we can get this conversation going about our the real history and what actually happened during reconstruction, that will be just tremendous,” she said in one comment.

She also upped the ante on her original claim, saying whites were disproportionately targeted: “In the decade following reconstruction the best data available shows more whites lynched than blacks.”

That’s right—it only gets worse.

Saine goes on to cite the Tuskegee Institute for her numbers. First, the Tuskegee Institute did not begin tracking lynchings until 1882, when it was founded. Perhaps Saine does not know what years Reconstruction was? Second, the Tuskegee Institute data on lynchings reveals that far more black people were lynched than white people—especially in the South.

There is no part of this that looks good—at all.

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