Linda Lee Tarver, president of the Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan, and Lawrence B. Jones III, editor in chief of Campus Reform, spoke Wednesday night in the League about Republican values, partisan politics and what it means to be a Black conservative. Sponsored by the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans, the event drew about 30 audience members, mostly students.
Tarver kicked off the discussion by sharing her background and explaining her allegiance to Republican values. According to Tarver, her parents fled Alabama in the 1940s after her uncle was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan. Noting her political beliefs are strongly influenced by the experiences of her parents, Tarver said her parents believed the Republican Party had a better record than the Democratic Party in combating racism.
“They hated racism, not people, and they were Republicans,” Tarver said. “They were Republicans because they knew who had shut the front doors of schools in the South, George Wallace was blocking integration in schools. They were Republicans because they knew that the party of Lincoln and the party of civil rights for which they participated in were the party of the Republican Party.”
Tarver said she appreciates the Republican Party’s free market values and emphasis on personal liberty, but has received criticism for her beliefs. Noting she is the only Republican among her nine siblings, Tarver said being a Black Republican is challenging. Latest polls from CNN measure President Donald Trump’s approval rating among Black voters at a dismal 9 percent.
“I caught hell supporting Donald J. Trump for president,” Tarver said. “I was on Let it Rip, I was on Tim Skubick, Off the Record, I was on Devin Scillian, I was on Fox News, anywhere anyone would listen I was supporting this man.”
The main reason she identifies as a Republican, Tarver said, is the party’s platform, which she said resonates with her Christian values and belief in individual rights. Tarver criticized the Democratic Party’s platform, claiming it reminds her of Mein Kampf and denouncing its mention of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement.
Finally, Tarver expressed her thoughts on the contentious issue of abortion. She claimed the investigation of newly-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who faces allegations of sexual assault, was actually prompted by Democrats’ fears Kavanaugh would overturn Roe v. Wade if confirmed.
Jones also introduced himself to the audience by explaining his political background, first introducing himself and explaining his political background. Jones was recruited by President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign as a 15 year old and initially aligned with the Democratic Party. He then turned to the political right after he grew frustrated with Obama. Jones worked as an investigative journalist during college, exposing corruption in the health insurance marketplace.
Jones now identifies as a libertarian because of his frustration with party politics. Jones said both Democrats and Republicans vacillate on issues and place their personal motives before their party’s values. He was especially critical of the Democratic Party.
“It’s not really about the issues, it’s about power,” Jones said. “Both parties want power, no disputing that, but again, there’s only one group of people that are insistent on ruining people’s lives for the power.”
Jones attacked the Democratic National Committee’s focus on raising taxes. He added Democrats claim to support progressive reforms but have taken little concrete action, particularly on issues concerning the Black community.
“Show me your record of improving Black people’s lives,” Jones said. “Don’t tell me what you did back then, tell me what you’re doing now. If you believe that Black people shouldn’t be discriminated in the education system by their zip code, then pass school choice. Pass it. If you are tired of young Black males having issues with the criminal justice system, then pass criminal justice reform. If you caught the FBI red-handed, the people in leadership, spying on their political opponent, then take out the damn FBI.”
Additionally, Jones raised the issue of identity politics, which he said is destructive to the younger generation. He again brought up the Kavanaugh hearings and said believing Kavanaugh’s accusers because of their gender embodies the detrimental nature of identity politics.
Concluding his talk, Jones encouraged the audience to be skeptical of politicians and to define one’s own beliefs.
“Stop listening to the punditry and discover what your why is,” Jones said. “What do you believe? Get what you believe and be able to defend it vigorously.”
The moderator, College Republicans President Dylan Berger, an LSA sophomore, then addressed the panelists, asking them why they identify as Republicans. Jones clarified though he mostly votes Republican, he considers himself a libertarian because he questions the integrity of the Republican Party.
Tarver reiterated many of her previous points, including her pro-life beliefs, Christian identity and disagreement with the Democratic Party. She expanded on the difficulty of being a Black Republican, saying many of her family members consider her a source of shame.
A student in the audience posed the next question, asking Tarver to reconcile her beliefs with the fact that the Democratic and Republican Parties changed their platforms drastically in the 1960s. The student argued the Republican Party reunited under racism during the Civil Rights Movement.
Tarver suggested the student had been exposed to revisionist history, encouraging the student to read through Congressional records on Southern Democrats.
“If you want to know where Republicans have voted on Civil Rights in the ’60s, then look at the Congressional record,” Tarver said. “There’s a lot of revisionist history on who flipped and who did that and who did that. The Democrats, and I was alive at that time, the Democrats were blocking the Southern doors.”
The final question came from a student who identified as Black and wasn’t affiliated with either the Democratic or the Republican Party. He said Tarver was misleading the audience and revising history by claiming the Republican Party can help Black voters. The student noted Republicans in some states have contributed to Black voter suppression.
Though the discussion was cut short, Tarver acknowledged voter suppression but said both parties are guilty. She reaffirmed her belief in the Republican Party’s platform.
Reflecting on the event, Business sophomore Evelyn Velasco said apart from being a member of the College Republicans, she came to the event to hear from other Republicans of color.
“I’m proud of being a Republican even though I’m a Hispanic, and knowing that Dr. Linda Lee is a Black that advocates for being of color and in the Republican Party, I just wanted to see what professional support there is,” Velasco said.
Velasco also appreciated how Tarver acknowledged the difficulty of being a non-white Republican advocate.
“She herself says it’s an uncomfortable situation, but being uncomfortable sometimes is what you need to do to make a change,” Velasco said.