President Barack Obama and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney are aggressively campaigning for votes in swing states like Florida, Ohio, and Colorado. Yet there are other locations where neither candidate bothers to spend much time. For President Obama, that includes certain conservative strongholds in the plains states; for Governor Romney, that includes many of the country’s largest cities.
Republicans shouldn’t be satisfied with this status quo. Our vision of fiscal responsibility and accountable leadership should appeal to urban dwellers, whether they’re liberal, conservative, or moderate. But first, we have to make the effort.
Consider my hometown of Washington, D.C. This might come as a surprise to voters from other parts of the country, but the outcomes of local elections in the District of Columbia are generally foregone conclusions. Over 90% of the city’s registered voters are Democrats, and you can only vote in a party’s primary if you’re a registered member of that party. That means that races are effectively decided many months prior to the general election. But Washington is hardly unique in this regard.
Our neighbors in Philadelphia face a similar dynamic. In both Philadelphia and D.C., Republicans are reserved two token minority party seats on the city council. In D.C., these set-asides haven’t held. In 2008, the city Board of Elections and Ethics allowed a long-time Democrat named Michael A. Brown to register as an independent, which meant he was able to run against — and defeat — the Republican nominee. He currently occupies one of the at-large council seats that’s supposed to be reserved for members of non-majority parties.
This might seem like a hopeless environment for a reform-minded conservative to compete in, but I believe there’s reason for hope. As I talk with voters across D.C., I find that on issues that are really important to city residents — crime, quality of life issues, schools, city budgets, honesty — people are willing to look past the party label and at the candidate themselves.
In D.C. in particular, the time is ripe to look past party labels. In fact, the time is ripe for D.C. voters to seek diversity and balance on the Council. One-party political rule has left no one in charge of holding the government accountable, and ethical standards have suffered as a result. The current mayoral administration has been plagued by a federal investigation of its election activities, and “pay to play” schemes — where public dollars flow to politicians’ friends rather than qualified businesses — are regrettably still standard practice among District of Columbia councilmembers. In one particularly egregious instance, Councilmember Brown legalized online gambling by slipping it into an appropriations bill without a committee hearing, all the while lobbying for the winner of the gambling contract.
You don’t need to have an “R” or a “D” on your voter registration card to realize that this is no way to run a city.
To win in the cities, Republicans need to de-emphasize the social issues that have come to define the party nationally, and instead focus on a vision for responsible, conservative stewardship of the budget and the streets. That means keeping crime low so that families feel safe; providing efficient city services at an equitable tax rate; supporting laws that protect the city’s most vulnerable residents; and continuing the march toward better public schools.
The Republican message is a simple one: We can’t afford another generation of failed leadership from mayors and council members who act in their own best interests instead of ours. We need real, honest-to-goodness change in the nation’s big cities, and the GOP might be just the party to provide it.
Mary Brooks Beatty is the Republican candidate for the at-large D.C. Council seat.