NAACP Debate: Why Won’t Milwaukee Democrats Debate Black Republicans?
Mon, 19 Oct 2020 13:29:39 GMT
Some candidates believe the Democrats’ refusal to hear from black Republicans and an Independent at an NAACP debate would rob Milwaukee’s black community of a chance to hear a robust discussion on the issues through such a prominent platform.
“It is a shame that Democracy is being hijacked this way,” Owens said in response to the Democrats’ letter. “African-Americans in Milwaukee deserve to hear from candidates seeking office, and those who are seeking to be reelected need to bring their platforms to the black community in Milwaukee. It is a shame that these candidates refuse to take an invitation from the oldest civil rights organization – the NAACP. If black lives matter, then black voices do also.” (WRN previously did a feature story on a jobs program that Owens helped found. You can read about it here.)
The letter from the five Democrats is on the letterhead of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party and is addressed to the NAACP Milwaukee branch president. Read the Democrats’ letter in full here.
Two Democratic candidates said they would go, according to an NAACP flyer: LaKeshia Myers and write-in Michelle Bryant.
The five who wrote that they will refuse to attend the NAACP debate outlined a list of reasons, including COVID-19 and the NAACP’s Milwaukee Branch Political Action Committee Chair doing political consulting work for a black Republican (Owens) who would be at the debate. However, the debate would have been moderated by two prominent and respected black Milwaukeeans, who each represent different sides of the political equation (talk show host Earl Ingram, who most people consider leaning toward the Democratic side, and Republican Gerard Randall.) Fred Royal, the president of the NAACP, told Wisconsin Right Now’s Jim Piwowarczyk that the NAACP was moving the debate to a Zoom/virtual format to alleviate any COVID-19 concerns. Royal added, “I try not to debate on people’s opinions on social media.”
“I think there’s something about having to present their record to the people,” Owens said of the Democrats. Some of the candidates, including Drake, have debated their Republican opponents in smaller forums. For example, Owens and Drake debated previously in Glendale, but he says that is only a sliver of his district (and a more white area). He believes the NAACP debate would better reach the vast majority of the district that is largely black.
Owens said the NAACP forum “matters because this is the oldest civil rights organization that has been fighting for the freedom of oppressed, black, and brown people. It is the most prestigious.” As a result, the group has a large platform to bring issues to voters, he said, adding that he is a member.
The letter then lists a series of attacks against Johnson, objecting to the “partisan affiliation of the organizer of this event.” It calls him a “compensated consultant for the campaign of one of the participating candidates” and expresses concern that the initial invitation was sent from Johnson’s Kingfish email instead of the NAACP email to some candidates’ state accounts. A comment by Johnson in a flyer for the debate generated controversy; it quoted Johnson as saying, “Candidate debates are the centerpiece of Democracy, those that do not participate are nothing more than political chumps” (that’s a line from Malcolm X). They claimed, “We are not confident that the public can benefit from an event that we believe lacks a good faith effort to be unbiased and transparent.”
Johnson responded in a statement to Wisconsin Right Now:
A well-known name joined in the thread. Former County Executive Chris Abele then wrote on the thread, “This is really disappointing. The NAACP in Milwaukee has done a lot of good work in the past and I have regularly donated to help it. This stunt – and that’s what it is – is beneath the organization I have proudly supported in the past. I’ll hold off on writing another check until I’m confident that we won’t see more crap like this and go back to a laser focus on advancing Black America, which has never been more important right now.”
The NAACP apology letter says that a virtual option should have been considered and apologized for “verbiage” in the flyer. It says that “an individual’s private business ventures do not automatically disqualify them from service.”