Minorities Gaining Power In State Democratic Party

Sunday, July 8th 2007, 1:59 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma Democratic Party officials say that with half its leadership offices held by minorities, the party will attract more minority voters who will help elect Democrats next year.

Kitti Asberry, the state party's vice chairman and one of two blacks serving as officers, said minorities can see they are being included in the decision-making processes that affect the Democratic Party.

``I don't think their voices have been taken into consideration as far as putting them in leadership positions,'' Asberry said.

Jana Harkins, the party's treasurer, said she wants to make sure that all minority races ``know that there is a place for them in the Democratic Party, not only as a voter or a concerned member of the Democratic Party but leadership positions as well.''

The election of two blacks to half the party's four leadership offices is unprecedented. The chairman of the state Republican Party, Gary Jones, said the state GOP has yet to elect a member of a minority race to one of its two officer positions.

However, Jones said many voters do not know who party officials are and that he does not believe it will have much effect on next year's elections.

``The voters will be looking at the candidates and will be looking at the issues,'' Jones said. ``We have made progress with minorities....I don't think that's going to have a huge impact.''

For the first time in 80 years, a black Republican, T.W. Shannon of Lawton, was elected last year to the state House of Representatives, and most of the 20 or so American Indians in the Legislature are Republicans, he said. The only black to be elected in Oklahoma to Congress, J.C. Watts, is a Republican.

Jones predicted that Republicans will maintain their control in the House next year and for the first time in state history will have a majority in the Senate. The Senate now is evenly split, 24 to 24.

Ivan Holmes, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said the party having blacks in leadership positions will have ``a positive effect'' on voters.

``It can't do anything but help us out there trying to get people organized, voting again and registering again,'' Holmes said.

State Democrats elected Asberry and Harkins in May. Asberry's election marked the first time a member of a minority race was elected to the party's second-highest post.

``Because of our diverse backgrounds, we can bring more to the party than any of the other officers have brought collectively,'' Asberry said.

``It's long overdue,'' said Harkins, of Oklahoma City. ``I've been involved with the Democratic Party for a very long time and frequently hear people talk about how the African-American community is the base of the Democratic Party.''

Harkins said minorities who may not have voted Democratic or skipped elections will feel more inclined to vote for Democratic candidates after seeing that blacks have key roles in the state party.

``It energizes them in a way. They feel that there's a place for them, that they're not being overlooked.''

Asberry, of Oklahoma City, was the first member of a minority race to be elected chairman of the Oklahoma County Democratic Party. She was appointed to the post in 2002 and was elected chairman the next year, serving until this year.