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Tacoma: She once regretfully called Republicans “racist,” now Strickland will speak at GOP conference

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on May 28, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
May 28, 2013 9:13 pm

A year and a half ago, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland created a political stir when she told a group of Pacific Lutheran University students that Republicans have trouble courting the black vote because “they’re racist” — a remark that a student photojournalist later opined about in the campus newspaper.

Marilyn Strickland
Marilyn Strickland

Now, Tacoma’s mayor is set to be a guest speaker on racial issues at the Mainstream Republicans of Washington’s annual Cascade Conference this weekend in Leavenworth.

Strickland is scheduled to speak Saturday as part of the conference’s “Bridge Building Presentations,” a series of discussions aimed at introducing conference attendees to the interests of Hispanics, Women, Asian/Pacific Islanders and other various constituencies.

Strickland is set to join Nat Jackson, former president of the Black Republicans of Washington, for the “African Americans” presentation.

Though she holds Tacoma’s non-partisan mayor’s office, Strickland is a Democrat Party activist who has been a national delegate from Washington for Barack Obama. Today, I asked the mayor via email why she agreed to speak at the GOP gathering.  She replied:

I received an invitation from (Mainstream Republicans’ Executive Director) Alex Hays, who is a friend.  I welcome the opportunity to have candid conversations with leaders across the political spectrum, even if we don’t always agree.

Strickland’s remark in December 2011 about Republicans, which she uttered during a gathering of Pierce County Young Democrats at PLU, made news around the state and beyond.

Kevin Knodell, a photographer for PLU’s student newspaper, The Mooring Mast,  broke the news in a first-person column. He reported that Strickland told the group that Republicans had trouble courting the black vote because “you just can’t get around that they’re racist.”

Strickland later said she regretted making the remark, saying what she meant to say was there’s a perception that the Republican Party is racist.

“I probably didn’t choose my words as carefully as I should,” she told The News Tribune.

Nonetheless, the incident spurred state GOP chairman Kirby Wilbur to call for an apology. After Strickland’s remarks hit the press, Wilbur — who is also scheduled to speak at the conference this weekend — told The News Tribune:

It’s unfortunate that Democrats like Mayor Strickland feel they need to resort to name calling instead of talking about the issues. She obviously thought no one was there to hear it. She was talking to her own group, and what apparently she says in private with them is different that what she wants the public to hear. That’s disappointing to me.

Earlier today, Hays, who helped organize this weekend’s conference and counts Strickland as a personal friend, said the mayor’s speaking engagement is a learning opportunity both for Strickland and state Republicans.
“The mayor’s comments previously were not really helpful,” Hays said. “They didn’t capture what the Republican Party is all about.  But rather than just criticizing her, I thought reaching out and inviting her to the Cascade Conference could make something constructive out of all this.”
While Hays noted Strickland’s remarks were insensitive, he added that Republicans, indeed, have big problems reaching minority constituencies. Hays acknowledged that’s partly due to the party’s own shortcomings in recent years. But, it’s also because “Democrats have succeeded in demonizing Republicans,” he added.

“So, we’re going to have this difficult conversation,” Hays said. “And that’s OK. We want to be outside of our comfort zone.”

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