J.C. Watts talks about bringing ethnic diversity to the GOP

 J.C. Watt’s new challenge to bring more minorities to the Republican Party. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2013 — There is much talk in Republican circles these days about growing the party especially after the results of the 2012 election. The rapid demographic shift happening in the country is the biggest threat to the party’s survival. The problem is that the nation is getting more diverse while Republicans are not.

According to one conservative columnist at TownHall.com “Aside from being a weak candidate, Romney lost the election because he refused to ask for the minority vote in a meaningful way. Romney “leaned in” to whites and won 60 percent of their vote, the highest of any candidate since 1988 and “leaned out” from the minority vote and bombed the election. Obama won 73 percent of the Latino vote at 27 percent, Blacks three percent and 71 percent of the Asian vote.

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After the 2012 election Ross Douthat in an op-ed for The New York Times explained the dire situation this way, “Reliable Republican constituencies — whites, married couples and churchgoers — are shrinking as a share of the electorate. Democratic-leaning constituencies — minorities, recent immigrants, the unmarried and unchurched — are growing, and voting in larger numbers than in the past.”

J. C. Watts, former congressman and football player from Oklahoma, has recently taken on the challenge to bring ethnic diversity to the Grand Old Party. On February 27 of this year, he, along with a team of seasoned Capitol Hill veterans, started a non-profit organization called “INSIGHT America” with the goal of empowering communities of color with policy solutions based on the principles of smart government, free enterprise and personal freedom.

Watts’ efforts to grow the party are all the more significant given the fact that Republicans have now lost the popular vote in the last six presidential elections. If the party doesn’t change course, it will no longer be a majority party.

Ivory: What is the vision for INSIGHT America? And how will you seek to implement it?

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Watts: INSIGHT America is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization that exists to empower communities of color by offering policy solutions and growing the next generation of public policy leaders. Through our core programs, INSIGHT America empowers young professionals of color who identify with solutions that work and advocate for independent thought with the training, networking and awareness needed to succeed in public policy. Our core programs include public policy forums, a Congressional internship program, professional development for young policy professionals and opportunities to network.

Ivory: Given that the country already quite a few nonprofits dealing with urban and minority issues, why the need for another organization? What makes INSIGHT America so unique?

Watts: Almost everything Washington does is through a partisan lens. We want Washington to see things through a lens of models that work and also want Congress to understand the culture of the black, Hispanic and other ethnic minority communities. INSIGHT’s mission is unique in that we will engage ethnic minority communities with the principles of job creation, personal opportunity and bi partisan solutions that work. In doing so we believe that common ground solutions will nurture new and existing talent to aid in our service to the American people.

Ivory: What’s been the reaction from other policy experts in the field to your launch?

Watts: The reaction has been extremely positive. Americans are hungry for a discussion on policy solutions to the problems in their communities that work. We have enough evidence, if we’re honest, on what hasn’t worked over the last 30 years. Many of my former colleagues from Capitol Hill are engaged with the organization. Members of Congress from both the Senate and the House are serving as Honorary Co-Chairs. Examples include Sen. Tim Scott, Sen. Rob Portman, Sen. Tom Coburn, Rep. Spencer Bachus, Rep. Randy Forbes, Rep. Jon Runyan and Rep. Scott Rigell. Our Honorary Co-Chairs have led policy forums and are working with us to provide internship opportunities for minority students.

Ivory: On school choice, there are clear signs that the public is much more in favor of providing alternatives to failing schools. How do you account for this change in attitude ?

Watts: We need to make sure that every child in America goes to a school every day that is safe, will teach them how to read and write, do arithmetic and gain the computer skills necessary to allow them to compete in the global marketplace. If we can get that through the public schools, fine. If we can’t, I’m all for parental choice in education to allow that parent to take his/her/their child to a school that is safe and teaches them, even if it is a faith-based school!” If a 25-year old can’t read and write and he or she isn’t gaining marketable skills, it doesn’t matter if a Republican or a Democrat is in the White House. His or her future will be bleak.

Ivory: The majority of American children use the public school system. What accountability measures does your organization support to ensure high academic achievement in the current system?

Watts: I believe government should be loyal to parents, teachers and children. Our children deserve better and the public schools in many communities of color are not meeting the standards we should expect. INSIGHT America will hold policy briefings on educational challenges to debate the issue and provide solutions. Education is a bipartisan issue that concern all communities of color and should be first, last and always about the student learning.

Ivory: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, African-Americans accounted for 39.4 percent of the total prison and jail population in 2009. This despite being only about 13.6 percent of the U.S. population. What will INSIGHT America do to change such depressing statistics?

Watts: There is a direct correlation between education, stable families and incarceration and crime. Our incarceration rates will continue to remain disproportionately high if minority children grow up in broken families with absent fathers. In addition, if our education system doesn’t train children for the workforce, many will resort to crime.

Recidivism and repeat offenders are also a major factor to these alarming statistics. Sen. Rob Portman hosted our first policy briefing on this very topic on March 19. Among other things, we discussed the need for legislative solutions such as The Second Chance Act, which Portman originally coauthored in the House in 2004 and was passed into law in 2008. This legislation provides resources and supports local corrections agencies, nonprofits, education institutions, service providers and families to help offenders reintegrate into their communities. The Second Chance Act reduces recidivism rates and the burden on taxpayers by decreasing prison costs for federal, state, and local governments.

America built prisons in the 80s and 90s and as we expanded incarceration, we incarcerated a lot of low risk offenders and spent a lot of money. The prison system cost $50 billion per year, up from $9 billion in 1985. Our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform to save lives, families and money.

Ivory: Many minority-owned businesses struggle to gain access to capital that would help fund operating costs. A lack of access to capital has caused many of these businesses to fail. What’s the right approach for this issue? Can the government or non-profits help in any meaningful way?

Watts: Sometimes it’s access to capital, but sometimes it’s access to government offices and policy makers. Small businesses, minority businesses often don’t get a seat at the table of opportunity.

On June 4, Honorary Co-Chair Rep. Spencer Bachus hosted our policy briefing on financial services. We examined solutions for seed capital for minority entrepreneurs and financial education for the community. What we found is that many aspiring minority business owners simply aren’t aware of the financial products that exist for access to capital. The Financial Roundtable, SunTrust Bank and former HUD Secretary and current J.P. Morgan Chase Vice Chairman Alphonso Jackson are working to address these problems, and we look forward to partnering with them.

Ivory: Research suggest that African-American children comprise about 40% of all children in foster care while they are only 15 percent of the population. How will INSIGHT America tackle this issue?

Watts: Someone once said, “There is never so much love in the world that reaching out is a bad idea.” These children have entered the system due to abuse, neglect or abandonment on the part of the birth parent. This is an issue that begins with family and community. As we look at policy, some of the areas we hope to address include reforming the length of time children remain in the foster care system and embracing reforms that support permanency and adoption, especially in communities of color.

Ivory: What does an urban conservative policy platform look like?

Watts: Strong families, strong education, entrepreneurship, opportunity, homeownership. Republicans and Democrats should foster sound, responsible policies that get positive results surrounding these 5 pillars and we should keep score. As the old saying goes, if we’re not keeping score, it’s just practice.

Ivory: The Republican Party seems to be having problems engaging various racial groups, and not just blacks and Hispanics. For example, President Obama won 73% of the Asian vote, many of whom are small business owners. What is INSIGHT America strategy to engage these communities that already share the party’s values but are turned off by the conservative movement?

Watts: President Obama and Democrats may not have the best solutions, but they do engage and show up. I’ve said for 20 years now, if Republican don’t establish deeper relationships with ethnic minority communities they will continue to ignore Republicans, despite our solutions.

Our strategy is simple. We will discuss and debate tough issues that directly impact the core of minority communities. Our goal is to find solutions that work. Our goal is to be inclusive and continue to create partnerships that allow us to embrace the diversity of thought that directs us to common ground solutions. I’ve done this for the last 20 years concerning anti-poverty legislation in working with former Congressman Floyd Flake, establishing the African American History Museum and working with Congressman John Lewis on the initiatives I established during my time in Congress for HBCUs.

Ivory: Last month the unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent, yet black unemployment remained at about 13.2 percent. What policies and solutions will you promote to turn these numbers around?

Watts: It fell to 7.5 percent after thousands dropped out of the job search. I think it’s closer to 8 percent. We don’t need more taxes, we need more taxpayers. It’s not just a Republican talking point when we advocate government responsibility to foster an environment for investment. There can’t be opportunity or jobs without investment and profit.

Addressing the wide disparity between black unemployment and mainstream unemployment must be solved with a comprehensive strategy that focuses on educational opportunities for children, workforce development training for adults and minority business growth. Briefings like the Spencer Bachus financial services event will result in policies that offer solutions to improve the minority unemployment rate.

Ivory: How is INSIGHT America funded?

Watts: INSIGHT has and will continue to welcome support from various entities within the private sector, including individual donors and corporations. Those who want to support the organization can contact Angela Sailor at 202-207-2854.

Ivory: In 10 years where will INSIGHT America be?

Watts: I hope INSIGHT America will be a well-known bastion of ideas and solutions for communities of color, a resource for minority public policy leaders and a launching pad for the next generation of minority leaders.

Ivory: J. C., thanks for carving out some time to answer these questions for the Communities section at WashingtonTimes.com.

Learn more about INSIGHT America

Chairman: Former Congressman J.C. Watts

Website: www.insight-america.org

Twitter: @Insight_America

Launch Date: February 20, 2013

President and Executive Director: Angela Sailor

Founding Board of Directors: Kimani Little, Ja’Ron Smith, DJ Jordan, Dwayne Carson

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Richard Ivory

Richard Ivory is a New York City-based political and social media consultant with a passion for tech, politics and music.  He is currently an editor for The Washington Times, Communities Digital News and is a Board member of Republicans for Back Empowerment. He has worked for both the Republican National Committee and the Republican Youth Majority. In 2008, he served as a consultant to the Youth for John McCain ’08 campaign. He has been featured in The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN and US News & World Report.   

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