A pastor from one predominantly African-American Oakland church and a deacon from another attended the county GOP Central Committee's monthly meeting Tuesday in San Leandro.
"I don't care if you're a Republican what I care about is if you're here to serve mankind or your own interests," Earl Jacobs, a deacon at West Oakland's Market Street Seventh Day Adventist Church, told the mostly white and Asian committee members. "If people want to be safer in their community, they can't be selfish. ... You have to get out and get to know the people, talk to them. It's about networking, it's about relationships, ... and people will know if you're not sincere enough."
County GOP Chairman Dick Spees, a former Oakland City Councilmember, said the sincerityis there: "What the Alameda County Republican Central Committee is all about is reaching out.... This tent is going to get very, very big."
While Democrats exceed Republicans in voter registration by about 9 percentage points statewide, the ratio is more than 3-to-1 in Alameda County, 55 to 17 percent, and more than 9-to-1 in ethnically diverse Oakland, 65 to 7 percent.
California Republicans generally held their own against 2006's Democratic wave, re-electing a popular governor, swapping the secretary of state's office for the insurance commissioner's and maintaining their ground in the heavily gerrymandered Legislature, but for a big East Bay defeat: the ousting of House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.
Now East Bay Republicans are preoccupied with retaking McNerney's 11th Congressional District seat and holding on to the 15th Assembly District seat from which Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, is termed out in 2008. But that requires building a war chest and grass-roots volunteer support.
The California Republican Party's new chairman, Ron Nehring, also visited the county GOP committee's meeting Tuesday. Afterward, he said he saw "changes in the political preferences of African Americans to be more independent," and "with that comes an opportunity for Republicans to bring their message and offer their leadership to African-American neighborhoods."
He said the GOP can speak to African Americans' concerns about home and business ownership, self-sufficiency and job creation. Asked about concerns over scarcity of public money for social services, he replied he believes people are concerned just as much with "making the best use of those dollars."
Pastor Jasper Lowery of Urojas Ministries and Transitional Housing, which meets semiweekly in the First Unitarian Church of Oakland on 14th Street, spoke at Tuesday's county GOP meeting about his struggle to serve society's down-and-out on the meager resources now available.
Later, he said he felt he'd had a warm reception and that Nehring in particular "really has a spirit for the people."
"I would like to see if the party is beginning to shift their paradigm to get down into where it's really at, and I guess at that point we'll really see a change with Democrats crossing over," Lowery said.
County GOP committee member Charles Hargrave of Oakland said Jacobs' and Lowery's visit resulted from a phone call he received weeks ago from Bishop Bob Jackson of East Oakland's Acts Full Gospel Church of God in Christ.
"Oakland in general has suffered at the hands of only being predominantly controlled by one party, the Democratic Party," Jackson said Friday. "Because there's no real competition, no real political information filtering in from the Republican Party. ... We don't have a lot of choices. I think society is better off bipartisan."
That's not a slam at Democrats, who "haven't really let the community down at all," he added, "but what they haven't been able to do is provide choices for the community.... I'm not throwing rocks at the Democratic Party, but I'm saying the Democratic Party by itself is not able to abate the problems and address all the issues we're having."
Hargrave, who plans to set up meetings between the county GOP and Latino and Asian-American community leaders in coming months, said he believes his party and minority communities have common ground: "When it comes to moral or religious or family issues, they're very conservative."
Alameda County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Robin Torello said she applauds the GOP "for waking up and finally participating and finding out what members of the community want," but it's Democrats who have a long history of addressing minority communities' needs.
"When push comes to shove, I believe that the parishioners, the congregants of the faith community, will come back to the Democratic Party because we are in touch with their social issues, we understand what their life issues are," she said, noting the efforts of elected officials, including Rep. Barbara Lee,
D-Oakland; Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland; and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums in serving the area's diverse constituents.
If angry about scarce money for social programs, Torello added, perhaps people should blame the Republicans who ran Congress until January. The new Democratic majority now is trying to raise the minimum wage, make college more affordable and so forth, she said.
Election results show the region's largely African-American and Latino neighborhoods vote overwhelmingly Democratic, but the GOP and some in the African-American community have connected in recent years. In 2004, 20 African-American pastors endorsed President Bush for re-election, citing his opposition to same-sex marriage as their main reason. In 2006, several African-American pastors endorsed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for re-election, whom they said showed more interest in their communities than did Democrat Phil Angelides.