I’ve spoken to Jeff DiSantis, Nunn’s campaign manager, who both vouched for the memo’s authenticity and dismissed it as an early planning document crafted by a consultant.
At least half of Nunn’s vote — and probably much more than that — will come from African Americans in November. Where are they in her campaign? A few names leap out: Richard McDaniel, her political director and advisors like Stacey Abrams, house minority leader in Georgia and Andrea Young, an attorney and daughter of Andrew Young. But as I went through the list of proposed policy experts the planning document said might be tapped for advice, I kept coming up with white names and white faces. Young white women. Older white men.
“We have a diverse group of folks who are helping us, and we get their opinions,” DiSantis said. The policy experts listed are simply an early spitballing attempt to find help. Young and Abrams are around, as are others, he said. And he invited me to visit the campaign headquarters to see the diversity for myself. I’m sure there are plenty of black people around. That’s not my point.
Georgia is awash in African American attorneys and highly-educated executives with policy experience who would leap at an opportunity to advise a senator. But even on the proposed voter protection team — the group of campaign attorneys who will guard against voter intimidation and polling place shenanigans faced by Black and Latino voters — every one of the eleven people listed is white.
I know, I know. Planning document. It’s still transparently stupid and insulting. This is Georgia. I was not aware that there’s a shortage of highly-qualified African-American voting rights attorneys in Georgia. The idea that someone putting a planning document together wouldn’t view that as an oversight is a red flag.
While other folks have been parsing Nunn’s financial strategy or concern about oppo attacks on her work at Points of Light, this kind of myopia speaks to my chief anxiety about her campaign, and it’s the one thing missing in her enumerated threats: the risk of taking the black vote for granted.
“We’re reaching out to community leaders,” DiSantis said, when I asked about the focus on black clergy — a dubious endeavor in the modern electorate. “We’re talking to elected officials and business leaders, which is very large and surprisingly so for a Democrat, in every part of the state and demographic.”
I wrote last year about the attack on Nathan Deal’s diversity efforts after it became clear that 93 percent of his appointments are white. Deal could be absolved, sort of, because so few African-American political hacks are Republicans. “Deal’s first obligation when making political appointments in the execrable spoils system that is patronage politics in Georgia is to hire Republicans.” I wrote. “The first qualification for a political appointment when the governor is a Republican is to be a Republican. If you’re not a registered Republican, generally speaking, you need not apply.”
Well. Democrats don’t have a shortage of qualified African American policy experts. I’m not suggesting some sort of quota or the idiotic racially-tinged staffing practices that lead to discrimination lawsuits. I’m suggesting that a campaign that’s really connected to the black community is going to have a thick stack of African American resumes to work with, and the folks on the short list — like people named in a planning document like this — would reflect that.
The document talks at length about the need to turn out African American voters in high numbers while capturing at least 30 percent of the white vote. But Nunn’s discussion of issues specifically related to African American voters has been relatively muted, even in areas where conservatives appear to be coming around, like sentencing disparities. It’s message discipline, designed to avoid facile attacks from the right that may erode that 30 percent of the white vote she needs. She needs that to be electable.
But I come away from this document with a sense that black people would be perfectly welcome holding signs or making phone calls … just don’t ask her for too much, please. She needs to win.