It was less than a year ago when Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman starting getting serious about political outreach to the African-American community. One problem, however, is that Mehlman characterized the Republicans' race problems as a thing of the past -- and they clearly remain a part of the GOP's present.
Consider, for example, Jim Welker, a state lawmaker in Colorado who sent around an email this week that accused "welfare-pampered blacks" of waiting for the government to save them from Hurricane Katrina. The words were written by someone else -- in this case, the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson -- but by disseminating the comments, Welker endorsed the message.
And what a message it was. Welker's email included one passage that explained, "President Bush is not to blame for the rampant immorality of blacks."
Welker, who is white, backpedaled after his email met public outrage, and the state lawmaker was willing to concede that sending the email around "showed poor judgment on my part." He also added -- I swear I'm not making this up -- "Some of my best friends are of different skin color."
While Welker's email message is obviously offensive, and his defense laughable, it's also worth remembering that racist indicents like this one aren't nearly as uncommon as they should be. Indeed, while Mehlman has assured African-American leaders that the Republican Party has finally moved past its racial problems, he may want to consider a few recent examples that suggest that the RNC chairman may not be paying close enough attention to the issue.
Just from the last few years:
* Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) praised a segregationist presidential platform;
* Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) compared African Americans to drug addicts;
* then-Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.) admitted to having "segregationist feelings";
* Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) hung out with a segregationist group during his gubernatorial campaign;
* Republicans in Michigan emphasized the need to suppress the "Detroit vote" during the 2004 elections;
* State Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-Tenn.) compared Tennessee's Black Legislative Caucus to the Ku Klux Klan and complained that the KKK "has less racist bylaws" than the black lawmakers' group;
* State Rep. Sue Burmeister (R-Ga.) created a "voter-identification law" last year and told the Justice Department that the measure was necessary because if black people in her district "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls." Burmeister added that if fewer blacks vote as a result of her legislation, it would only be because it would end voting fraud.
Keep in mind, these are just some recent examples involved GOP elected officials, and doesn't even begin to touch on far-right pundits, writers, bloggers, and personalities.
Mehlman said Republicans' outreach to the African-American community hasn't been "effective" in the recent past. That's true, but unless Mehlman appreciates the full scope of the Republicans' problem, acknowledgements of past wrongs will only go so far.