Florida Republican Rep. Allen West held the second in a series of his “Conservative Black Forum” discussions on Monday where he led a bipartisan discussion on what’s ailing America’s black communities. Local and state government Democrats and Republicans, Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson, a Democrat, Fox Business’ Charles Payne and several black business community leaders joined West on Capitol Hill to discuss the issues.
West opened the event citing a book he often consults – “Rediscovering Black Conservatism” by Lee Walker – and the message it contains.
“In the beginning, in chapter one, it talks about over the past 30 years, billions of dollars have been poured into black communities across the country in hopes of curing well-documented socio-economic problems including failing schools and adequate housing, rampant crime and drug abuse, black on black killings, unemployment and more,” West said. “Despite the courageous efforts of many local institutions, agencies, school leaders, grassroots organizations and community residents, the problems remain.”
“In many instances, these problems have grown worse,” he continued. “I believe it will take new ideas and new voices to find solutions, and that is exactly why we’re here. We’re here today to talk about economic freedom as opposed to economic dependency. We’re here today to talk about four basic conservative principles and how they can apply to economic revitalization for the black community: That’s limited government, being fiscally responsible, individual industrialism that leads to self-sufficiency and the free market that grows business, and lastly and most importantly, it’s about equality of opportunity which comes from a good education.”
West points to the black community’s 14 percent unemployment rate as an indicator that the current economic policies aimed at helping minorities aren’t working, adding that “if you understand actual unemployment, it’s probably closer to 18 or 20 percent.”
On top of that, West pulled out statistics showing how blacks aren’t proportionally represented population-wise in the percentage of new start-up businesses around the country.
“60 percent of new startups are in the white community, 23 percent of new startups [are] in the Hispanic community, 5 percent [of] new startups [are] in the Asian community and, with 13 percent of the population, you’re only seeing nine percent of new startups coming out of the black community,” West said.
Over the more than two-hour-long discussion about issues facing these communities and possible solutions, President Barack Obama hardly came up. After the event, West told The Daily Caller that’s because Obama “doesn’t have a vision for the black community and economic development.”
“He doesn’t have a vision for America,” West told TheDC. “So, I think that’s why we see all of these horrible economic indicators turning in the way that they are. His vision is just to get re-elected and that’s not what I’m here talking about.”
To back his claim that Obama doesn’t care for black communities, West points to Obama’s new immigration policy. By granting de facto amnesty to 800,000 illegal immigrant foreigners, Obama effectively took opportunities away from all those Americans in the black communities nationwide looking for jobs.
At the White House Rose Garden last Friday, The Daily Caller’s Neil Munro asked a question of Obama on that topic as his speech appeared to be ending. The president criticized the TheDC, but wouldn’t answer questions.
While Munro has faced criticism for his question, West joins those who praise him.
“That was fine,” West told TheDC of Munro’s questioning.
“Your guy asked a very pertinent question: What happens for Americans?” West said. “What happens in a black community – that you heard us talking about today? Unemployment is reported at 14 percent [in black communities], it’s probably closer to 18 percent maybe 20 percent. Black teenagers – 37 percent of them are unemployed. That’s a serious issue. So, instead of making an election-type decision to patronize and pander – I mean, what do we want to happen for Americans and getting them back to work and opening up opportunities for them. That’s what’s lacking in the division that’s coming out of the White House.”
West said many blacks are leaving the liberal side of the aisle and coming over to the conservative side, too. He points to former Alabama Democratic Rep. Artur Davis — who recently defected from the Democratic Party to the GOP — and one of his event’s panelists, Ashley Bell. Bell, who’s a young, dynamic politician, is a Hall County, Georgia county commissioner and an Obama delegate in 2008 – but he’s since left the Democratic Party for the GOP.
“There’s no clamoring for any more regulation, I’ll tell you that,” Bell said at West’s event. “There is no one looking for additional regulations from the federal or state-level or county [government]. When I heard Dr. [Art] Laffer [one of Ronald Reagan’s economists who participated on West’s panel as well] mention … empowerment zones, at the local level, we try to create those. We take opportunities given to us by federal governments to create empowerment and opportunity zones.”
“But, the problem is, there is so many regulations on where they can be,” Bell continued. “It took us in Hall County about two months to figure out where we wanted to make one of those zones – which were different than the federal regulations on where they wanted them. But, I tell you, we know better about where we want empowerment zones than the federal government would – so, many times, we’re missing out on opportunities because they look at us in a schematic of census trackers, they don’t see the faces of the people we see every day. They tell us we have to move an empowerment zone five miles this way but we know five miles the other way there’s a business waiting to come. For us, we don’t see it in terms of black and white.”
Ruth Jones, a Democratic city manager for Riviera Beach, Florida, expressed some dissatisfaction with the notion that government can solve all problems for black Americans. “Government can’t do it alone, but the family can do it,” Jones said at the event. “My great-grandmother was a slave. She put all of our family in a boxcar – she didn’t have it in the household, but she went and earned it and taught us how to make money. And, so, I do believe that you can do it but it’s going to take everyone – it’s going to take the family, it’s going to take the parents, it’s going to take the church.”
“That’s your weakest area right there, and more of our churches need to be teaching investment and financial independence,” Jones added. “Go get the people where the people are. And, if the people are at church or in those type of activities, that’s where we’ve got to go in order to stiffen our families and teach our individuals within these particular organizations as well as the churches how to manage money, how to save, how to invest. The Word says a man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”
Florida Democratic State Rep. Mack Bernard joined the panel, too, and expressed dissatisfaction with how federal monies were being disbursed throughout the black communities in his area. He said some parts of his district have unemployment rates as high as 40 percent, and that the jobs just aren’t coming into black communities.