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A Diversity Check Of Illinois' RNC Delegation

Amanda Vinicky

The GOP has been talking for years about the need to do more minority outreach: Illinois leaders like former Governor Jim Edgar said at the Republican National Convention in 2008 that it should be a goal,and the Republican National Committee's autopsy of the 2012 election prescribed a dedicated campaign to cultivate black, Hispanics and Asian support. Here's a diversity check, through the prism of Illinois' 2016 delegation to the Republican National Convention, in Cleveland.

If you took a snapshot of the Illinois delegation to the Republican National Convention (the 69 actual delegates, plus alternates, their guests, a smattering of elected officials) you wouldn’t be able to tell at a glance who’s a die-hard Trump supporter, and who is still struggling to accept the reality that a reality TV star is the party’s nominee.

What would be obvious is this: nearly delegate is white.

With just a few exceptions.

As co-chair of Trump’s Illinois campaign, State Rep. John Cabello of Rockford, got to give an introduction Tuesday night, during the roll call of states that culminated in Trump’s official nomination.

Credit Amanda Vinicky
Illinois Rep. John Cabello, R-Rockford, says he is the only Republican member of the Illinois House of Hispanic origin.

 "Mr. Chairman, I am John Cabello, the state representative from the great state of Illinois. The only Hispanic member on the Republican side of the aisle serving the House of Representatives," he said, igniting cheers from Illinois' other delegates.

Cabello says while he’d love for there to be more GOP minority legislators, it’s tough to find many willing to run as a Republican, mostly, he says, because the would-be recruits believe they’ll have a hard time winning.

Cabello’s theory is that Chicago has a much larger population of ethnic people (and in fact, more legislators of color do hail from the city), and Democrats have drawn the city’s districts in a way that gives them the advantage.

"We’re identifying them, we’re helping them when we do, but usually we’re finding them in a Democratic stronghold and they’re not elected because they're not a Democrat," he said. "Anybody that thinks there are no minorities that are Republicans, I’ll say it, is insane. Anybody that says that Republicans don’t want any Latinos or minorities in the party, is insane. Exclamation point. If you think that, you’re an idiot."

It’s just that you’d never know that by glancing at Illinois’ delegation to the RNC, or, for that matter, by looking at a roster of Republican serving Illinois in Congress or the state legislature.

Many of the Trump delegates to the RNC are brand new to the process, and had been sought out by Springfield attorney, Kent Gray who formally managed Trump’s operations in Illinois.

As first reported by the Cook Political Report and then  by other publications,  Trump appeared to have lost out on two additional delegates, perhaps because of their foreign-sounding, South Asian names. Though Trump won the general "beauty contest" popular vote in the primary, a pair of candidates for delegate -- Nabi Fakroddin in the 6th Congressional District, and Raja Sadiq in the 13th -- came in third place, meaning they didn't win a delegate spot; instead delegates representing Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, respectively, went to Cleveland.

This week the Illinois Republican Party’s executive committee revoked the credentials of Lori Gayne, a Trump delegate who'd posted a racist message on Facebook threatening violence. In a statement, party chairman Tim Schneider condemned her comments, and said “racism and threats of violence have absolutely no place in the Illinois Republican Party or in a civil and inclusive society.”

And yet, critics charge that the party’s new presidential nominee is promoting racist policies, like his call to ban Muslims from entering the country, say he's made racist comments about Mexicans, and say his plan to build a massive wall on the border with Mexico raises questions of how inclusive his policies would be if elected.

Congressman Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, says it remains to be seen what effect those ideas will have on the election.

“There’s no doubt that people who have voted Democratic. But in terms of the minority vote, we’ll see. He thinks he’s doing well among them. I think election day we’ll find out whether or not that’s the case," he said.

(Kinzinger has made a point to not directly endorse Trump, though he says he will work to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning the White House. He says Republicans could need to translate their conservate values to show people an "optimistic future" including a positive poverty agenda).

But a recent Wall Street Journal poll was pretty definitive for Democratic political strategist David Axelrod.

“I saw he was getting 14 percent of the Hispanic vote. That’s half of what Mitt Romney got that caused all of the alarm in the Republican Party. In some polls he’s getting zero percent of the African American vote," Axelrod said. "So, you know, in a country that’s becoming more diverse all the time this has to be a troubling set of numbers for the Republicans.”

For Illinois at-large delegate Aaron Del Mar, of Palatine, immigration is a cornerstone and selling point of Trump’s platform. He says his dad and aunts immigrated to the U.S., and played by the rules.

“There are no free rides. My dad would stand with that, my family," he said. "A lot of people who came legally are on our side. Why should everyone else get to cut in line and get to bypass when they’ve had to work and earn their way over?”

Del Mar says the portrayal of the Republican Party as made of “staunch, white bankers, you know, in the three piece suit” isn’t accurate. Just look at him: ”You don’t get any more diverse than a Filipino, French-Canadian, you know?

Credit Amanda Vinicky
Former Cook County Republican Chairman, and current Trump delegate, Aaron Del Mar is Filipino and French Canadian.

Del Mar has had success moving up; until he decided not to run again earlier this year, he was chair of the Cook County GOP.

But at the same time, he says the party needs to do more work. He says he's often the youngest, brownest person at GOP events, and that there isn’t any active recruiting of Muslims, Jews, blacks, Latinos or Asians.

“Yes, we’ll be accepting of everybody. But we need to actively pursue and bring those people on our side That has been historically a stronghold of the Democrats. So a lot of people figure that you know, there’s no way we’ll be able to pull those guys to our party. But I think that’s a loser mentality. I think that if we actively go after those specific groups and develop those relationships, that we’ll be way more successful and we’ll garner more votes,”he said.

Congressman Kinzinger likewise says it's incumbent on the GOP to take an active role in recruting non-whites. For one, it's sheer math.

"I do think we have to do better in the black community, in the Hispanic community, in the Asian community. And part of that is being able to sell a message that’s not just being against things," he said. “All you have to do is look at the numbers. Typically 95 percent of black voters vote Democratic. We lose two-thirds to three-quarters of Hispanic voters, so the numbers are there. It’s obvious.”

After all, winning elections is what it’s all about.

And right now, Del Mar says, Illinois Republicans have a "hard time" doing that.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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