All too often political speakers treat the National Association of Black Journalist Convention as a microcosm of how they treat the black press. They only show up when they’re desperate, and still act like they’re doing us a favor, but seldom have any exclusives or meaningful information to offer.
Reince Priebus came to NABJ in Boston in 2014 and tried to lecture the crowd about why voter ID wasn’t that big a deal. In 2016, Hillary Clinton spoke in Washington, D.C. and didn’t face many tough questions or offer many real solutions. Last year we had The Real Housewives of New Orleans when a fight almost broke out between Omarosa and Ed Gordon, ironically on a panel about violence against unarmed black people.
In stark contrast, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez came to talk about what the DNC was actually doing in the 2018 midterm elections, and specifically what they were doing to help Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams become the first black woman elected governor in U.S. History. The Root had the opportunity to speak with him on Thursday after his panel discussion with the NABJ audience in Detroit.
Perez praised the Abrams campaign’s hard work on the ground and laying out what the DNC has done and will be doing to help in the questionably purple state of Georgia.
“We made a six month investment in rural African American voters,” Perez said, pointing out that historically in Georgia (and most other Southern states), Democrats focus on the metro areas and pretty much concede rural counties to Republicans. Abrams won her primary with 76 percent of the vote by visiting all 159 counties in Georgia and not just giving on up rural African Americans, Latinos and Democratic white folks. However, clearly the DNC and Perez understand that Abrams still has a tough race ahead of her.
She’s facing Republican Brian Kemp, a vote suppressing, child threatening, driving around in a pick-up truck to grab ‘illegals,’ political caricature who wants to turn Georgia into South-Trumpistan. He also is still running elections as Georgia’s Secretary of State, while at the same time running for governor. Which is a bit like being a traffic cop while also being a major investor in parking meters.
“Listen I know Kemp well because when I headed up the Civil Rights Division. We sued ... I was about to say something ... Not very nice ... We sued him because he’s one of those people who wants to make it harder to vote,” Perez said. “And, let me be slightly more specific: He wants to make it harder for African Americans and Latinos and Asian Americans to vote. That’s what he’s trying to do.”
Perez’s passion is important because Kemp has organized his campaign around attacking voter registration organizations like the New Georgia Project and essentially demonizing non-white voters. Last weekend, just days after my interview with Perez, Secretary of State Brian Kemp shut down all online voter registration in Georgia for 30 hours over the weekend for ‘routine maintenance,’ which just happens to be prime registration time for Democrats. A move that Brian Kemp the Gubernatorial candidate couldn’t have loved more if he had thought of it himself.
Whatever the DNC is doing with the Abrams campaign, it’s apparently working. The latest polls in Georgia show Abrams in a dead heat or slightly ahead of Kemp with just under 100 days before election day. The Republican Governor’s Association just had to throw $770,000 into Kemp’s campaign just to keep him going, not a good sign in supposedly safe red state. However the fairness of the election, let alone Abrams success, will still take a combination of hard work, locally, and from the DNC, in addition to dedicated reporting from black reporters and black press organizations like NABJ that are willing to cover the stories the mainstream networks won’t. Then, of course, there’s the most important part of any election as Perez pointed out.
“You know this year there’s been a lot of below the belt tactics [by Republicans] and I know Michelle Obama used to say—When they go low we go high? You know what I say? When they go low, we go VOTE!”
In the end, that is the only thing that matters.