SPRINGFIELD-The only African-American Republican in the General Assembly believes his party and, specifically, its standard bearer in the governor’s race can make serious inroads this year with minority voters who traditionally have been aligned with Democrats.
“It goes back to Abraham Lincoln,” state Rep. John Anthony, R-Plainfield, told Early & Often. “People need to be reminded how entrenched the black community has been in the Republican Party. I didn’t know these things growing up. I was not taught that Republicans fought to free slaves.”
Anthony, who served as deputy sheriff at the Kendall County Sheriff’s Department before taking a spot in the House, said he was always told as a kid in the Cabrini-Green housing projects of Chicago that “the Republican Party was for the rich and the Democratic Party was for the poor.”
But he didn’t like how the stereotype painted him.
“I was always told I was a victim,” he said. “I’m not a victim. I’ve refused to take on that label. That’s actually one of the reasons I’ve moved away from the Democratic Party. I’m a victor not a victim.”
Anthony, the 33rd Republican African American in the General Assembly, is the first black Republican since the early 1980s, when Rep. Jesse Jackson, R-Chicago, represented a House district on the South Side. (Jackson was not the same person as the Rev. Jesse Jackson or the civil rights leader’s imprisoned son, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.)
Saying a new breed of Republicans is “on the rise,” Anthony had some advice for his party as it looks to connect with Chicago voters.
“I think the thing we need to focus on in the Republican Party is policy,” he said. “We need to stop making everything personal. We’ve got to get rid of the toxicity in politics.”
Anthony’s statements come as Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner has made a concerted pitch to black and Latino voters in the
city, lining up support from the Rev. James Meeks and appearing last week at an immigration-reform event sponsored by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition in Chicago.
It’s part of a strategy outlined last week by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown in which Rauner needs to aim for at least 25 percent of the vote this fall from Chicago and Cook County, the minimum threshold winning GOP governors from the last quarter century have used to lay claim to the Executive Mansion.
Rauner hasn’t been the only Republican whose eye is on minority voters. Last week, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential 2016 presidential contender, visited Chicago and urged the GOP to be more inclusive to racial and ethnic minorities, especially to parents, and to turn its focus toward education.
Anthony said Meeks’ endorsement of Rauner fits right into line with that focus. Meeks, the former executive vice president and a current director for Operation PUSH, is a former Democratic state senator and heads Salem Baptist Church on the South Side.
“For [Meeks] to come out for Rauner speaks volumes about what he could do in the black community,” Anthony said of the GOP candidate for governor. “He’s not a newcomer. He’s been in the black community a long time before he got on the scene as governor.”
Anthony wouldn’t say whether Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who is seeking a second full term, has failed minorities.
“The voters will be a judge of that,” he said. “Look at the election, and you’ll have your answer: A one-party rule for past 11 years has not served the state very well.”
Anthony, a father of four, said it’s important that Republicans help remove the “toxicity” from politics by shifting the focus from attacking an opponent’s character to debating the issues at hand.
Anthony tasted some of that “toxicity” in April when he was drawn into what many perceived as an inflammatory racial comment made during debate over charter-school legislation on the House floor.
In her closing remarks on her legislation, Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, turned to face exclusively Democrats and shouted; “Listen to me, minorities! I’m over here because we’re all over on this side, right?”
Chapa LaVia later apologized for her remark, which ignored Anthony’s presence on the Republican side of the aisle. Anthony later issued a statement accepting her apology.
Although Anthony is the only black Republican in the General Assembly, he said the Republican caucus always made him feel welcomed as an individual and that it was never about “the color of my skin.”
“We have bigger issues than what color skin somebody has,” he said. “If we don’t solve those issues, it becomes a moot point.”
Anthony said in the last 10 years, increased government involvement has fostered “a decline of economic vitality.” He said it’s time Republicans better articulate how limited government can help minorities.
“We have to create an environment for the job creators to produce,” he said. “Whenever you’d talk about ‘limited government,’ that used to mean you’re helping the rich out by giving rich people a tax cut. But if you give a rich person—specifically one who owns a corporation—a tax cut, they’re able to make more jobs, which helps out low-income communities.”