Shannon Reeves, 32, is the only delegate for Gov. George W. Bush who is also a chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Reeves -- president of the NAACP chapter in Oakland, Calif., the largest west of the Mississippi, he says -- argues that African-Americans' allegiance to the Democratic Party is not only misguided, but strategically unwise. He also owns two businesses -- two convenience store/gas stations that he built in former "crack houses and blighted storefronts in the toughest neighborhoods in the black community."
Salon caught up with Reeves on Monday morning as he was waiting to get onto the floor to sit with the other California delegates.
How many other NAACP presidents are here?
[Laughing] None. Not that I know of.
Have you heard anything about the report that NAACP national president Kweisi Mfume wanted to address the convention and the Republican National Convention turned him down?
I thought that they had him addressing some kind of prayer breakfast or something. I know he wanted to speak here. I don't know what the point would have been, because Kweisi Mfume is a die-hard Democrat who spends a considerable amount of time bashing the Republican Party, and this is a partisan event.
But Mfume did open the doors of the NAACP to Gov. Bush.
Because it's a nonpartisan organization. But it's funny, because what he did was, Al Sharpton opened up Sunday afternoon [at the NAACP convention] for the lunch, [NAACP national board member] Julian Bond blistered Governor Bush Sunday night, Kweisi Mfume blasted him in his speech Monday morning, Governor Bush goes at 2:30, and then [California Democratic Rep.] Maxine Waters followed and shredded Bush.
Then they brought Hillary on Tuesday, you know, Wednesday they brought Gore, then Thursday Clinton in the day and Jesse [Jackson] at night. So, yeah, OK, it's a nonpartisan organization, but by the same token we can't act like it was set up to have such a rolled-out welcome mat, either.
One of the criticisms of Bush's speech to the NAACP was that it was of little substance, little in terms of tangible proposals, but a lot in terms of pretty pictures for the cameras. Do you disagree?
I need to get you a copy of the NAACP questionnaire, which breaks down the top 25 priorities of the NAACP, Governor Bush's response and Al Gore's response. You won't find too much difference other than Governor Bush had specific itemized things that he intended to do as priorities, while the responses from Al Gore were "I've been there with you before," "I believe," "I've been there for you," blasi blah. He just danced around it.
Governor Bush went into an audience where 90 percent of the people were not going to vote for him and, as a matter of fact, were going to go home and adamantly campaign against him. So like Daniel, he went into the lion's den. Al Gore, on the other hand, would never go speak to the NRA or the Christian Coalition. So you need to at least address the issue of a man being a leader and saying, "I care enough about you as a community to get into this community, even though I know a lot of people are not going to support me."
You used to work for Jesse Jackson, right?
Jesse Jackson gave me my first internship in college. I was a Democrat until '89. I was so disgusted after Jesse Jackson won 7 million votes and the Democrats said that the country wasn't ready to put a black man on the ticket. I said, Wait a minute! Seven million people voted for this man but the Democrats say that the country won't support a ticket with a black man on it, therefore his race excluded him from being on the ticket.
I said, That's not right. It doesn't make any sense for us to be [so loyal to the Democrats]. But they said, Well, it's not like the blacks are going to go vote Republican, so what can we really lose in the end?
That was one of the things that changed my philosophy to be deeper in my politics than just going along to get along.
What of the fact that the campaign that Gov. Bush waged in South Carolina didnt exactly seem sympathetic to the African-American community? Or the fact that he didn't take a stand on the Confederate flag, and he took a long time to condemn a supporter, State Sen. Arthur Ravenel, who referred to the NAACP as the "National Association of Retarded People" ...
I think it was wrong. I've said that the Republican candidates running for president should have condemned the Confederate flag in South Carolina on its face, straight up. The flag is racist and it's wrong. The Confederate flag means to black folks what a swastika means to Jews. It's just offensive.
And the fact is, South Carolina still has economic sanctions [from the NAACP, which has called for a tourist boycott] because all they did was pull [the flag] off the capitol down to a flag poll and memorialize it and put lights all around it so you can see it day or night. And they got a bigger flag!
So, no, that's what I mean, and that's why I fight inside this party, to make our candidates understand the impact of their actions in relation to my community. Because I was born black, and that's the way I'm going to die.
So why are you a Republican?
No other population in America has such a blind loyalty to one political party as black Americans to Democrats. Black Americans are 85 percent Democrat. It doesn't make any political sense whatsoever. See, white folks are both Democrat and Republican. So whichever party wins, there's going to be something in it for white folks. Hispanics are both Democrat and Republican. Whoever wins, there's going to be something in it for Hispanics. Asians are the same way. Jews are the same way.
But when it comes to black America, 85 percent vote Democrat. So when Republicans win local, state, national elections, it does not make any sense for us not to have our issues, from our neighborhood, at the table. Anywhere decisions are being made, I believe that black people need to be at that table. So I'm looking for some black folks to be over in Ralph Nader's camp, trying to bring the issues from our community there. I'm looking for some black folks to be around Pat Buchanan -
Good luck with that.
I think Lenora Fulani's over there.
She was. She's not there anymore.
Once there's a fair share of our people at every table, then within the community we can have a fair dialogue and philosophical debate about what, from a policy standpoint, is best for our people. From a strategic standpoint, we've got to be at every table.
What issues voiced by the Republican Party make sense for black America?
I think, for my generation, we've got to deal with Social Security. We've got to look to invest privately over the long haul. Social Security will not be there 30 years from now when it should be available for me. So I'm interested in, over the long haul -- for my sake, and my children's sake -- a new system whereby you can have private sector investment of some of those funds for the long haul.
By the same token, my grandmother cleaned houses in Mississippi so I could go to college at Grambling State University and earn a degree. I've earned a degree, I own my own business, and now my grandmother works for me because I take care of my own family. And now the tax structure penalizes me because I've moved into another bracket. The tax structure has to be reformed, and I believe that strongly.
The same thing is true for the marriage penalty. I'm single, but when I get married I intend to marry a woman who's aggressive and doing her own thing, and independent and financially secure. When we get married should we be penalized? So there are some basic things that don't have anything with race, but has to do with being part of the American mainstream. Everybody in my neighborhood is not poor and on welfare. We've gone to college, we've done everything we were supposed to. "Just Say No" to drugs, "do the right thing," "be all you can be," aim high, you know, all the themes. We've done that. We shouldn't be penalized by the tax structure. The inheritance tax, the death tax. These are issues, as there are more blacks moving into the middle class.
Independent analyses of the Bush tax proposal has 60 percent of the money in the tax cut -- not the percentages, but the money -- going to the richest 10 percent. Forty percent going to about the richest 1 percent.
But black folks have to be in the debate. I'm not saying that I'm sold on any current proposal that's on the table. I'm saying that it's important for me, being here, to hear the debate, to go back to my home in East Oakland, where the debate is not being held, and bring the debate back to my people. There are issues beyond affirmative action and racism.
You ran and came in third in the 1998 mayoral race in Oakland, which Jerry Brown won. Any other plans to run for office someday?
Governor Bush, or Dick Cheney, they don't have to worry about their mortgage, or their light bill this month. I'm still concerned about mine. Before you run for public office, you need to be financially and economically self-sufficient. You need to make sure that your family's taken care of.
First things first, so when you give to the public, whatever salary comes with the office, you don't need that salary to take care of your family, because then you get compromised. Because if you have to think, "OK, being in this office pays $90,000 a year, and if I don't get elected again, then I can't feed my family. So maybe I would vote this way, but I think I'll vote this way because I'm being lobbied that hard." I don't ever want to be in that position. I'm Shannon Reeves, I'm gonna stand by what I believe.