SHABAZZ: Indiana black Democrats right to demand diversity

February 11, 2017

To paraphrase one of my favorite alternative bands, R.E.M: “It’s the end of the world as we know it; I feel OK.” The world isn’t coming to an end because Donald Trump is president or because the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, although one could argue those are two clear signs of Armageddon. No, don’t move the doomsday clock up to midnight because I am in full agreement with the Indiana Legislative Black Caucus on an issue.

In the 13 years I have been covering Indiana politics, it has been a rare day when the ILBC and I agree on anything, but this is one of them. Indiana Democrats have done a poor job with diversity at the top of their tickets and, if they want to rebuild going forward, they need to fix it.

Since 2004, Democrats have had only one African-American running on the statewide ticket. It was Vop Osili, who ran for secretary of state in 2010. Yes, Barack Obama was on the ticket in 2008 and 2012, but he was running for president. And Indiana Democrats chose Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. If you can find a black person running for a statewide office as a Democrat in 2016, 2014, 2012, 2008, 2006 or 2004, please let me know. Karen Freeman-Wilson was the only other candidate I could think of this century, when she ran for attorney general in 2000.

Republicans have had two*: Marvin Scott in 2004, who ran against Evan Bayh, and Curtis Hill, who won the attorney general’s race this year. By the way, he got about 100,000 more votes than Trump and was the highest vote-getter in state history. Both Obama and Hill have clearly demonstrated that blacks can win on a statewide ticket, so why the Indiana Democratic Party hasn’t recruited more doesn’t make sense.

Blacks make up a significantportion of the Indiana Democratic Party, so why the powers that be would not work harder to get them on the ticket is enough to make you scratch your head. I do not believe that, in a state of 6.3 million people, over six elections, Democrats could not find an African-American qualified to run for governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, auditor or superintendent of public instruction. And the only one capable of running for secretary of state was Osili? Seriously?

Now, this is where someone will respond that Republicans don’t have all that great a track record on diversity. Maybe not. But in this area, one could argue that Republicans have done twice as good a job as Democrats getting blacks to run for statewide office. Of course, that would also be like being named valedictorian in summer school—but it beats being salutatorian.

If Indiana Democrats want to stage a comeback in this state, they should start by doing a lot more than paying lip service to diversity and do some real recruiting. If they don’t, I’m sure the GOP will. In fact, it’s already starting and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that party do it in 2018.

And when Republicans are running more statewide black candidates than Democrats, you know the apocalypse is right around the corner.

*That number would have likely been three had Dwayne Sawyer not resigned from the state auditor position three months after being appointed by former Gov. Mike Pence in August 2013.•


Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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