Opinion

Walter Backstrom | The new Republican Party?

Michael Steele, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, was in Bellevue recently to speak at a rally. By the way, he’s also African American.

I was eager to interview him for this column. I asked Luke Esser and the state Republican party to arrange an interview. While I waited and waited for the call that never came, I went to the rally anyway. While I was there, I looked at the makeup of the crowd. There were 400 white people and five African Americans, including Michael Steele.

The Republican party is trying to recruit minorities, especially Hispanics. I thought I saw some bilingual ballots, which clearly shows signs of real progress.

I believe that Mr. Steele would have taken some time to meet with me if he knew that I was there, waiting for an interview.

While I waited on the outside looking in, I saw state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who lives in Bellevue. He came up to me and asked how I had been, since I’ve known him for 20 years. I told him of my dilemma, and he promised that I would get my interview with Michael Steele. Two minutes later, he came back and said the chairman was eagerly waiting to meet with me. I said a short prayer and thanked the Attorney General for helping me.

Chairman Steele is an impressive fellow: Tall, with an engaging smile and a quick wit. I guess he would be similar to Bill Clinton, minus the 19-year-old intern. I told him that for the past 10 years, I have been pressuring the Republican party to actively recruit minorities. The results have been all talk and all spin, all of the time. There have been times when I felt that the past chairmen secretly wanted a party for white people only.

He assured me that he has faced some of the same challenges, only on the national level. He said the “old guard” doesn’t want change. They are satisfied that the “party of Lincoln” is viewed as being all male, all white, all Southern, all of the time.

He and I represent change for the Republican party that some people don’t want. To combat the old style, I have asked all the state chairmen to produce a working document that addresses the need to expand the base of the Republican party, which is reflected in conservative values of honor, decency and diversity.

The one time my discussion with Mr. Steele changed drastically was when I asked about his campaign for the U.S. Senate. I asked what it felt like to have Oreo cookies thrown at him. Oreo cookies are black on the outside and white on the inside. He looked at me and that 100-watt smile disappeared, replaced by a look of anger mixed with sadness. I then asked him, when his credit report was passed around like a McDonald’s cheeseburger, how did that affect his family?

He said the incidents hurt his family deeply, and that the liberal media failed to report the story.

He said it takes courage to be black, conservative and Republican, willing to stand up on principle. He assured me that history will record the acts of courage by people like you, me and others who stand up for what is right.

This party will either broaden the base, or it will go the way of all those who stood in the way of progress. I know it is difficult, but change is never easy.

I honor you, Mr. Steele, for the tenacity you have shown, and because you believe in the rightness of your cause. We will be proven right because we are right. We will win because we are truly on the side of the angels.

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