WE NEED COOPERATION, NOT POLARIZATION

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VOTE! exhibit poster, 2/2009

Election2012 #CLUTCHState Update: How Many Days #B4uVote? No Excuses... Just Results

By Kirk Clay

My Way Or the Highway Politicians

As Super Tuesday becomes the focal point of this election season. As speculation continues over whether the GOP will have a clear front runner by next Wednesday, my attention turns toward Georgia. Not because of the obvious reasons, but because of what the proverbial “Promised Land” represents for Voters of Color (VOC). Although 2010 census data shows that Atlanta only grew 0.8% to 420,003, neighboring Athens-Clark County grew by 15% to 116,714. This significant growth helped to give Georgia a new congressional seat plus an extra Electoral College vote.

 

I remember my first trip to Atlanta. I was recruited by one of the ministers who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He asked that I help to manage a “whistle stop” caravan through the Deep South and wanted me to join him in Atlanta for the launch of this effort. This was an experience of a lifetime and my first multi-state bus tour. Being a twenty something organizer from the Midwest, I often wondered what caused him to take me under his wing.

 

I will never forget how nervous I was running through the Atlanta airport having arrived close to midnight. You see, my flight was held over because of the weather and in those days I had no way to get word to the team that I would be six hours late. To my surprise, officials were waiting for me to land and whisked me through the airport to the ground transportation area. When I got there, I was surprised to see five American made SUVs sitting in the airport driveway.

 

With the doors open and his feet on the dashboard he sputtered “Don’t just stand there, get in. We have to make it to the Mississippi Delta by sunrise.” Of course, that’s exactly what I did. We traveled all night to make up for lost time. We only stopped for gas and a hot meal. His amazing network of restaurants and gas stations opened their kitchens along the way.

 

Although we didn’t have a chance to talk about the fact that he held up the entire campaign that night, I eventually mustered up enough courage to apologize, saying “I’m sorry, for causing such a fuss at the airport. What can I do to make things right?” He took a deep breath: “Well,” he said decisively, “we in the movement, promised to never leave anyone behind, and everyone is important to the movement.”

 

I wish our Congressional leaders had the same spirit of duty and responsibility to every person in this country. I wish they would remain focused and committed to serving the needs of Americans. After the surprise announcement that one of the most moderate members of the Senate will retire, it’s sad to say that I fear the roadblocks to recovery may remain in place all year.

 

Look at their economic policy work.  So far it seems to emphasize obstruction more than cooperation. What’s more, their priorities do not reflect the reality of our deliberate economic resurgence. They seem to believe that backsliding on women’s healthcare, higher education, and middle class safety nets are must do fiscal treatments. They ignore what most experts have acknowledged for years that “at the end of the day investing in the economy is good for the economy.”

 

However, Voters of Color (VOC) in places like Georgia are becoming energized. In fact, the political landscape resembles that of November 3, 1998 where the hyper-partisan nature motivated communities of color to demonstrate their concerns through the power of the vote. In 1998 Voters of Color were 30% of the vote share. Progressive candidates won the governorship, retained control of both houses of the legislature, and candidates of color made significant gains.

 

As history has shown, Voters of Color can make a difference in the outcome of elections. For example, VOC in Georgia make up close to 35% of the citizen voting age population and most of those registered voted in 2008. In fact, POC made up 34% of the vote share in the 2008 general election. This number increased to 35% in 2010, a Tea Party wave year. The potential impact would be significant in 2012 if every eligible Voter of Color voted. Especially in cities like Atlanta and Athens-Clark County where there are over 230,000 “Key” Voters of Color combined.

 

This takes me back to my lessons learned during my first visit to Atlanta.  That experience helped me to understand how important it is for everyone— Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans—to work within an all-inclusive cooperative environment. 2012 is a critical moment for our nation as we remain committed to ensuring that our democracy leaves no one behind. Organizations and institutions within our communities must embrace a diverse and energetic approach to political enfranchisement. That’s popping the clutch.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC

POLITICS IS A TEAM SPORT, COMING THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH

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English: Cartogram of the 2008 Electoral Vote ...

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By Kirk Clay

Political Trends May Reset 2012 Electoral Map

Every Thursday, I take my son to winter baseball camp. I enjoy watching him learn the fundamentals of fielding, throwing, and hitting. I watch him go over the same routine countless times so he’s prepared to make a clutch play if needed. As his dad and coach, I remind myself about Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson’s quote which speaks to the significance of me being there as the coach/manager for my son, “I’ll tell you what makes a great manager: A great manager has a knack for letting you know that they believe in you. They make you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how good you really are, you never settle for playing anything less than your best.”

I wish we could say the same about the GOP’s commitment to civil and human rights. They have made many attempts at garnering support among People of Color.  But as this week’s Arizona Republican debate came to an end, I began to contemplate if the GOP will lose that support.

For instance, the candidates’ answers on immigration reform made me wonder if they truly understood the depth of the firestorm that their “anti-immigration” rhetoric was fueling.  They threatened to veto the Dream Act, expressed full throated support of regressive Arizona-style immigration laws, and they were noticeably silent during the Adalberto Jordan scuffle.

Are they aware of the impact that these positions will have on People of Color when they vote?  Do they realize that these remarks indicate a pull away from any type of commitment to civil and human rights which was used by George Bush to sway People of Color to join the GOP bandwagon? 

Or maybe this suggests that they are ignoring the power that Arizona’s Voters of Color bring to the ballot box and gambling on the past where McCain won his home state by nine percent in 2008, Bush won by nine percent in 2004 and Bush won by six percent in 2000.  In fact, Bush won over forty percent of the Latino vote in 2004.  Maybe they believe they can back away from civil rights issues because they can win without any votes from People of Color.

What the GOP may not understand is that their policies toward Voters of Color (VOC) are turning states like Arizona into a battleground due to significant population shifts.  Remember that according to the 2010 census, Arizona’s population increased significantly in the last ten years. They gained a new congressional seat plus an extra Electoral College vote.
My advice to “political experts” is to not underestimate the VOC voting machine. For example, People of Color in Arizona make up 24% of the voting age population and in 2008 an impressive 74% of those registered to vote went to the polls. In fact, Voters of Color made up 18% of the vote share in the general election.

This number increased to 20% in 2010, a Tea Party wave year. Think about what could happen in 2012 if every eligible Voter of Color is energized? Particularly in cities like Phoenix where the population grew by 9.4% to 1,445,632 which included more than 280,000 “Key” Voters of Color. These Phoenix voters recently elected a Latino City Councilman and a new Democrat Mayor.

Keep this in mind– the entire Electoral College math could shift if significant investments by progressives, philanthropists, labor and political insiders were made to energize and turnout POC voters in Arizona.  If this happens and Arizona becomes a CLUTCH state, it could go from red to blue.  

Whether or not this is the year that Arizona becomes a CLUTCH State is unclear. The political geography and demographic numbers are there. All that’s needed is the level of support required to build the electoral vehicle to get the best performance from the emerging electorate.  I believe that the time has come for a political game changer to step to the plate. That’s popping the clutch.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC

WEIGHING PUBLIC OPINION, TARGETING THE RIGHT VOTERS

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English: John Lewis speaks during the final da...

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The Value / Vote Analysis for People of Color

By Kirk Clay

Growing up in Toledo, I can remember when a local sports team would win the city championship and advance to the state tournament. The affect it had on the community was tremendous. It energized us, and gave us a sense of achievement for our community and for the entire the city. It united all of Toledo.  In contrast, I’m not sure what to make of the recent firestorm over Chrysler’s NFL “Halftime In America” ad.

The ad seems to be a story about how one of our nation’s greatest companies is recovering from an economic downturn and now bouncing back to regain its role in the auto industry, the city of Detroit and the nation.  It reminds us that with hard work and tough decisions, we can bounce back.  Yet some politicians are complaining.  They believe the ad was not appropriate and some even suggest that it was promoting a partisan message.

Back in Toledo, we believed that a victory for our neighborhood was a victory for our city. So we always cheered for the home team. This applied to sports as well as politics. Even early in my career, all my impressions were centered by my father’s philosophy. “Son,” he would say bouncing a ball off his foot for effect, “you have to cheer a friend to endear a friend.”

In the 90′s, I remember working with a number of progressive partners to defeat a regressive ballot initiative in Colorado. I remember how challenging it was to excite People of Color (POC) about something they really didn’t identify with but were impacted by. We started down 20 points but after an aggressive public education campaign defeated the initiative by 12 points.  This happened because everyone was included and all segments of the community worked together as a team.

Fast forward a decade–the fruits of that kind of work were on full display at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. The event represented the culmination of a collective effort by Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans to encourage the election of the first Person of Color to the highest office of the land.

As I walked the city, going from event to event, we couldn’t help but to notice how unified the people were. There was something in the air. It had nothing to do with its thinness, although I did get a nosebleed one night.

In fact, I wondered if this was just something about those of us visiting the area or if people who lived in Denver felt the same way. So I went to one of Denver’s oldest African American neighborhoods, the historic Five Points community, in search of the real spirit.

I talked with a few residents and came to the conclusion that many were just as emboldened as the convention goers. In fact, many believed that any step forward for a person of color was a victory for every American. They referred to Denver’s long progressive history. They talked about the Buffalo soldiers, early Hispanic settlers, and the hundreds of activist that helped to give women more political and economic equality.

I asked them about the contours of Colorado’s current electorate. They told me about ex-Gov. Owens, and how Colorado had turned blue. They reminded me that even in 2004 when President Bush was re-elected and the GOP picked up seats on the Hill, the Democrats withstood the national surge. They took control of both houses in the Legislature and won a U.S. Senate seat. Moreover, in 2006 the governor’s office turned blue.

What the 2010 Census has revealed is that Colorado underwent a political geographical transformation. Note that President Obama won by 9%, the Democrats added another U.S. Senator, and they took five of the seven congressional seats. Moreover, people of color (POC) were 14% of the state’s vote share in 2008.  We saw more evidence of this shift in 2010 when during a wave year for the Tea Party, Colorado’s POC voters increased to 19% of the vote share and pushed the progressive statewide candidate over the top.

The truth is that the 2010 census only explains part of the story. Yes, the Denver population grew by 8.2% to 600,158 people and it currently has over 130,000 key POC voters. But it took the inspiration that the POC political leadership felt from the progressive community for so many to participate in the electoral process.  In fact progressive philanthropists and think tanks have invested resources in these communities for years.

The optimism of these progressive leaders continues to create opportunities for the POC political leaders to demonstrate their talents, skills, and value. Like my father says, we must understand that supporting a diverse team of political leaders will ultimately create an environment for success.

Rooting for higher POC voter registration rates, increased civic participation rates, and a more fair enforcement of civil and human rights laws only emboldens democracy. Progressive leaders understand that any victory for the team is a victory for America. That’s popping the clutch. 

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 Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPac

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