Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the first woman to lead either party in Congress, but she has an even loftier goal — to become House speaker. To do that, she will have to rebuild and unify her party after a disastrous 2002 midterm election. Pelosi is intent on re-engaging disaffected African Americans, the party’s most loyal bloc of voters.
One of the Democrats’ two top leaders, she hopes to mobilize minorities and other Democratic base constituencies to position her party to take back control of the House and the White House. Pelosi talked with BLACK ENTERPRISE correspondent David C. Ruffin in June.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: In order to win future elections, you’ve got to have black support. What are your plans to reach out to black voters?
PELOSI: Young African Americans are just like the rest of the population of young people…they’re not party-oriented. We have to try to change that and appeal to them. Since we didn’t have a message in the last election, a good deal of our base, including the black community, stayed home. Our outreach to the black community has to be vigorous, and we have to be clear about showing our appreciation for what African Americans have meant to the party.
B.E.: How will the outreach work?
PELOSI: We’re starting a series of meetings with black leaders because you always want to be current. You always want to hear it from the people themselves. So, listening and increasing our communication…that’s my day job.
B.E.: Is the Congressional Black Caucus involved?
PELOSI: I’ve told the Caucus that we will do what we have to do in our political work with the African American community — outreach, registration, get out the vote, and involvement in the elections. We started an African American working group that’s headed by [Rep.] Jim Clyburn [D-S.C.]. Jim will be working with [House] members who have 10% or more African American population in their districts to make sure they hear the voices of their own constituents.
B.E.: This is a pivotal point in the Democratic Party. What was your assessment of the party when you took over as House Democratic leader?
PELOSI: That it needed new leadership. The party had not been clear in terms of the message it put out to the public. I said never again would the Democrats go into a campaign where the public didn’t know who we were, what we stood for, how different we were from the Republicans, and what we were willing to fight for. There is a big difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to issues that relate to economic opportunity, investing in education, access to quality healthcare, and protecting the environment. In the last election, the Democrats decided not to have a message, partially to protect some of the senators who had voted for the president’s tax cut. As a result, there was no national message, and the Republicans were able to define us any way they wanted. I think that was one of the reasons we didn’t win.
B.E.: Do you have