The Republican Party has found it hard to convince Black Californians to join them. But for Black Republican candidates running for Congress in California, it's about running winning campaigns, which means getting voters to accept the Republican Party platform.
What that platform is, however, depends on which Republican you ask.
Republican Joe Collins III is hoping that the second time is a charm. A 13-year Navy veteran, who spent his early years in South Central LA, Collins ran against Maxine Waters for her Congressional seat in 2020. Now he is running against Ted Lui to represent California’s 36th Congressional district after making it onto the November 8 ballot with 14% of the vote — well behind Lui’s 66%.
Collins sees the race as a referendum on both parties. He asserts that the Democratic party, which has controlled much of California for the last few decades, has failed Black constituents. He believes the ideologies of the Republican party are more in line with traditional African American values, but the party needs to reach out.
“We don’t have a lot of people that are Black that are in the Republican Party speaking to the everyday stuff of Black America, it just doesn’t happen,” says Collins.
Craig De Luz, a longtime Republican advisor in California, explains that more is needed than just trying to get African Americans to register as Republicans. It is about getting them to see the Republican platform as aligned with their own values. DeLuz, and other Black Republicans are trying to reframe their political positions to correspond with those values.
For DeLuz and Collins how a person votes at the end of the day is what is important.
The idea that neither party has performed well for its members is a distinct part of the pitch that Black Republicans are trying to make. Pastor Brian Hawkins’ website express his views upfront in the motto, “We the People vs the Establishment.”
Hawkins is the Republican on the November ballot in the race to represent California’s 25th Congressional district. He advanced through his primaries with 16.4% of the vote and will face Democrat Raul Ruiz who received 56.4%, according to Ballotpedia.
Hawkins served on the Jacinto city council. He also served time in prison during his youth. According to Hawkins, he chose to turn his ten years in prison into an opportunity to change his life. He created mentorship programs to help other inmates. His unique background echoes many of the issues facing some Black Americans. A lifelong Republican, he joined the party based on the positions it held during the mid-1980's, “not so much where the party is right now.”
The current Republican party is difficult for Hawkins to explain. He admits that he has occasionally supported Democrats because he votes with the platform and not necessarily the party. In 2016 he voted for Hilary Clinton.
“Even as a pastor, when we did precincts at our church, I never encouraged anyone to vote any particular party. I encourage people to vote with what speaks to their issues,” says Hawkins. “And, you know, both parties can be off from issues that are concerning the everyday person. I voted for Democrats in the last election, and I have never just said, ‘Hey, I'm going red all the way down my ticket.’”
Hawkins admits that there are some in the Republican party that adhere to what he describes as “anger and racism.” He has even encountered voters who were concerned that his long beard would make him look “too Muslim.” Hawkins thinks this is holding his party back and that those who pretend not to see it are “just fooling themselves.”
Hawkins describes discussing Trump as sad because it makes the party about one person. He thinks Trump should not run in 2024 and that there should be more space made for new leadership with different perspectives like himself. He wants to look beyond this to what he thinks the party can be.
“I really kind of have a hard time getting behind him [Trump] because I really want to see this country move forward. We want to see people get uplifted and get access to equal opportunities,” said Hawkins. “You know, things like that, it just irritates me.”
Tamika Hamilton is a mother and wife to Ray Hamilton, a police officer. She spent 14-years active service in the U.S. Airforce and is currently an Air Force Reservist. She is running as a Republican against Ami Bera to represent California’s 6th Congressional District.
Hamilton says her candidacy is more about policy than party. If she is elected, it’s possible she would be the only Republican Black woman in Congress, and the second in history after Mia Love, who served Utah’s 4th district from 2015 to 2019.
Like Hawkins and Collins, Hamilton is trying to defeat an incumbent Democrat in what is considered to be a safe Democratic district.
Her strong Christian values are imbedded in her platform and in a 2020 Good Morning America profile she talked about what being a Republican means to her.
“Republicans offer a space for you to uphold the values that this country was founded upon,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton, Hawkins and Collins all describe themselves as favoring platform over party, but they are devotedly Republican. They all see personal connection as a way to bridge the gap between the Black community and the Republican party.
November 8 is election day.