Thursday, May 15, 2008

Don Scoggins, Huckabee supporter votes Obama

hatever this election is or is not, the group of Americans it just has to be affecting the most is black men.

No, no, hang with me.

The first time I actually thought of this was on Sunday morning over coffee, when I opened The New York Times and saw a picture of former Lakers great Ervin "Magic" Johnson embracing Hillary Clinton.

It wasn't because the photograph was taken in Los Angeles by my old running buddy, Todd Heisler, who twice accompanied me with his cameras from Denver to the war zone in Iraq.

No, it was because in Magic's embrace was the former first lady, and not Barack Obama.

This is where it gets complicated for black men.

It should be noted here that I fully understand we are not all alike. Yet being five decades old now, I almost cried when Sen. Obama won the Iowa caucuses.

I am certain it goes back to the stories my folks and others of their age recounted to me, of how if there was a black person on TV for even three seconds back then, well, we just had to watch - I think just to be self-realized in a way. Then came Dr. King and his teachings.

My parents taught us that we could be anything we wanted, of course, but I still find myself thinking: Are you kidding me - are you lying to me - that a black man now has a reasonable shot of becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party for the presidency of this great nation?

This is where it gets complicated for so many reasons.

More friends than I want to count, as one example, would think I'm probably for Barack Obama solely because of the color of his skin. My goodness.

By that standard, I should have wept over the failed presidential aspirations of Alan Keyes.

Still, it is, in my view, a complicated and dicey draw for black men on the Democratic side.

Maybe you will better understand if I tell you of my conversation with Don Scoggins, president of the 1,000-plus-member Republicans for Black Empowerment in Washington, D.C.

Don Scoggins, 62, is a lifelong Republican and now is a Mike Huckabee man, he tells me. In a lot of ways, he said, it goes back to Huckabee's being the only candidate to participate in black National Public Radio host Tavis Smiley's debate in September, in which he debated empty lecterns adorned with the absent Republican candidates' names.

And in his last race for Arkansas Gov. Huckabee received more than 47 percent of the black vote and appointed the state's first black budget director.

"He is inclusive, which in so much of my party is viewed as anti-conservative," Don Scoggins said.

So I had to ask the question:

If Mike Huckabee is not the nominee of his party, who would he vote for?

"I would cross over," Don Scoggins said reluctantly. "And I would only do it solely for historical reasons. To vote for a black man for president is something I never thought I would have an opportunity to do in my lifetime."

Wait, you would vote in the general election for Barack Obama? I asked him.

"He is so much more liberal than I would ever want him to be, but yes. He is a likable guy, one who I hear speak and, afterward, I get g oose bumps. If it were Jesse Jackson, say, or Al Sharpton, I would not vote for them. This guy is different. I am being honest."

As a party activist, Don Scoggins said, "It would be the first time I would vote against my core principles."

Yet imagine, he added, a black president would simply collapse the notion that blacks are perpetually behind the societal 8-ball, that racism is always the reason why they cannot achieve their potential.

"How would such an argument hold up if Barack Obama has gotten that far?"

More to the point, I ask him, how will such remarks play in Washington and within his organization?

"Maybe in years past I would have been reluctant to speak out and expose myself," he said. "(But) I have never gone lock-step with everything the party wants me to do."

OK, I say, how many of the other thousand-or-so in his organization feel the same way?

"I have not taken a poll, but I would say a lot feel the way I do. It would be historic. And the best thing is, he is a great candidate.

"Does that make me a bad Republican? I believe I have the same rights as everyone in my party, that I can let my conscience be my guide."

He has judged a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. My decision, I would want my friends to understand, would be similarly based.

No comments: