By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA News Wire Contributing Writer)
The Republican National Committee (RNC) is refuting claims that a number of key African-American employees were either fired or forced to resign and officials are pointing to the hiring of Telly Lovelace, the GOP’s newest liaison to the Black media, as proof that the party remains devoted to diversity.
Lovelace said that the top Black staffers who left did so after being presented with opportunities that could have helped to boost their careers.
“The staff [people] that left were not fired,” he said, countering public comments by Raynard Jackson, a veteran Republican consultant, who recently wrote an op-ed that said that, “these staffers deserved to be fired and it should have happened a long time ago. They were in way over their heads and their level of arrogance was just astonishing.”
Lovelace said that Kristal Quarker-Hartsfield, the former national director of African American Initiatives was with the RNC through the 2014 election cycle and that she left to take a position with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. Orlando Watson, the communications director for Black media, resigned at the beginning of March. BuzzFeed News reported that Tara Wall, the senior strategist for media and engagement for the RNC, departed sometime in November and NBCBLK reported that Raffi Williams, the former RNC Deputy Press Secretary, left last year to pursue a job in the media.
“I was not fired, I left and there’s no problems,” Watson said, declining to further elaborate.
Lovelace said that the staffers left because of opportunities they simply couldn’t or didn’t want to pass up, but Jackson remained incredulous about the timing of their exits.
“This time of the year is like the Super Bowl of politics,” said Jackson. “You want to be on a presidential campaign or in the RNC during an election year, because this gives you a close-up view of all these things that are going on. You’ll not only have all the access at the Republican National Convention, but you’ll be privy, to some extent, to the inner workings of the presidential nomination process as well as the inner workings of the RNC.”
Jackson continued: “If you are a true political junkie, this is what you live and breathe for. This is a political junkie’s dream.”
Jackson compared the RNC staff departures to a player in the NBA asking to be traded away from the Golden State Warriors to the Los Angeles Lakers, right before the start of the playoffs.
“If you’re on staff now you’re probably going to be a part of history that probably hasn’t happened in a lifetime, in a generation,” said Jackson, referring to the potential of a contested nomination process set to take place this summer at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jackson, who is the founder and chairman of Black Americans for a Better Future (BABF), a 527 Super PAC established to get more Blacks involved in the Republican Party, also wrote that the former RNC officials were ill-equipped to discuss real solutions to the challenges facing the Black community and that “many in the GOP felt the need to hire Blacks, not because they really wanted to diversify the party, but in some of the party’s thinking, they can’t be called racist because they hired a few Blacks.”
Lovelace said that “Raynard Jackson is 100 percent incorrect” and the only way to describe what he said, is that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about at all.
“Instead of making such false and unfortunate accusations, he should be working with us,” said Lovelace. “He hasn’t contacted anyone at the RNC since I’ve been here and, from what I understand, he hasn’t contacted anyone here since at least the beginning of the year.”
When reached by telephone, Jackson said that he stood by his column, adding that the idea that he’s not in touch with RNC officials is preposterous.
Jackson said he definitely considers himself part of the Republican team and that he’s loyal to the party. In 2013, Jackson created the RNC Trailblazer Awards to honor Black Republicans who have made a “substantial, positive contribution to the Black community, the Republican party and America.” That same year, he led the planning for the RNC’s celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Jackson said that he also coordinated an on-the-record media session between then-Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan and a handful of Black journalists. In 2014, the long-time Republican consultant even escorted RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to deliver a speech at the National Association of Black Journalists’ conference in Boston.
“I have some 25 years [in the party]. I stood with Paul Ryan and even Trent Lott through his troubles. That’s what friendships are, they are battle tested,” he said.
Watson was hired in 2013 amid much fanfare and proclaimed that it was imperative that the Republican party articulate its message in a “language that’s relatable to the people we’re speaking with and… to recruit candidates that look like the people we want to engage with.”
Today, Watson and his vision are gone replaced by Lovelace who now finds himself trying to explain and mitigate the so-called mass exodus of African-American staffers from the RNC.
Lovelace said the RNC has more African-Americans now than it did during the disastrous election year of 2012 when presidential nominee Mitt Romney received just four percent of the Black vote.
Lovelace also noted the continued success of the Republican Leadership Initiative (RLI) that Priebus designed that trains minorities how to engage with their communities as leaders and allows them to learn the ins and outs of field organizing using the latest digital and data-driven tools. He said that RLI now has a total of 160 fellows.
With a significant drop in those who now identify as Democrats, a growing number of Black voters – 10 percent – who turned out to support Republicans in the midterms and a historic slate of new Black Republican leadership in Congress, Lovelace said that now is the time for Black America to vote its interests.
“They are on the ground continuing to build relationships in the communities and they are continuing to strengthen the relationships that were already built,” Lovelace said.
Benjamin Chavis, the president and the CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a trade group that represents over 200 Black-owned media companies, said that the NNPA recognized that the RNC had retained the “good services” of Mr. Lovelace.
“The African American community across the nation will be turning out the vote in record numbers this year, yet no political party should take the African American vote for granted,” Chavis said. “The NNPA will be closely monitoring both the RNC and the [Democratic National Committee] to discern whether or not their stated commitments will actually be implemented.”