GOP-Bashing Groups Seek New Trailblazers

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:05pm EDT

( - With the Democratic National Committee having installed a new chairman, Howard Dean, several Republican-bashing activist groups are still searching for their own fresh visionaries. The organizations, representing liberal blacks, pro-abortion feminists and homosexual activists, were jolted by the departures of leaders following President Bush's re-election on Nov. 2.

On the same day Bush beat back the challenge of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Republicans gained seats in both houses of the U.S. Congress and 11 states passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Then, four weeks later, Kweisi Mfume announced that he was leaving his post as president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a group that for decades defined the black civil rights struggle. Mfume said he wanted "to pursue new challenges in media, politics and business," and was gone from the organization Jan. 1.

Also on Nov. 30, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest homosexual advocacy group, reported that its president, Cheryl Jacques, was resigning just 11 months into her three-year contract due to "a difference in management philosophy."

Finally, Gloria Feldt abruptly resigned on Jan. 27 as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), the nation's number one provider of abortions. Feldt had worked for Planned Parenthood for 30 years.

'Americans aren't buyin''

Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokesperson for the conservative organization Focus on the Family, speculated that "these folks had been in these positions a while, and maybe they were ready to move on.

"But I can't imagine that the election didn't have some kind of an impact -- at least psychologically -- since their agendas were rejected at the polls," Earll said. "I would not be real encouraged by that.

"Particularly on the abortion and gay marriage issues, Americans aren't buyin'," she added. "If I were in the leadership of the Human Rights Campaign or Planned Parenthood, I wouldn't be fortified to move forward to the next level of fighting. Of course, they're not going to say this openly, so that's speculation on my part."

A pro-life advocate with the conservative Family Research Council (FRC) also saw the resignations as part of a trend since Election Day.

"My thoughts range from the resignation of Cheryl Jacques following the 'values voter' victories to the departure of Gloria Feldt," the FRC's Connie Mackey told Agape Press. "Since then, we've had Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) revisiting abortion and abstinence.

"It's very hard for one not to smile," Mackey stated.

Wendy Wright, senior policy director of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, agreed that a shake-up is taking place in a number of liberal groups.

"There may be sort of a soul-searching going on in some of these organizations, to see that some of the positions they take have been very extreme and have not been appealing to the majority of Americans," Wright said.

"The thing we're watching for is whether or not these organizations will do what some within the Democratic Party have been hinting at," she noted, "not changing their positions, but simply changing their packaging -- how they frame the issues and speak about things."

Earll agreed that while some liberal organizations are regrouping, their objectives haven't changed, and any debate now taking place is basically over strategy.

"There is most certainly discord in the pro-gay movement, disagreement about where to go," she said. "There's conflict about whether to renew court challenges and whether or not pursuing court challenges to marriage protection laws will actually move the federal marriage amendment ahead because it gets momentum every time there's a court case.

"They're in a quandary over what to do strategically," Earll added.

Regarding Planned Parenthood, "what we've seen a little more from them in recent months is: 'Well, we need to get back to talking about how we're going to prevent these pregnancies. Abortion isn't really the issue, it's pregnancy prevention,' and that sort of thing," Earll said, speculating about PPFA's strategy.

"Again, what they're pushing is condoms for the teenagers and more graphic sex education, which is not in the best interest of our kids," Earll stated.

Departing comments

Mfume, in looking back on his nine years at the helm, said it had had been an "honor and privilege to help revive and restore the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization." The people he met and the lessons he learned during those nine years, Mfume said, were "invaluable." However, he added, "sadly for me, the time has come to set sail and to chart a new course."

Before joining the NAACP, Mfume served as a Democratic member from Maryland in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 until 1996 and spent three years as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Although non-profit organizations are prohibited by federal law from supporting or opposing candidates for public office, Mfume's political preference during the 2004 presidential election wasn't hard to determine.

When the Republican incumbent turned down the fourth offer during his first term to speak to delegates at the annual NAACP convention last July, Mfume responded: "Mr. Bush has now distinguished himself as the first president since Warren Harding who has not met with the NAACP. So, we've got a 95-year history and a president that's prepared to take us back to the days of Jim Crow segregation and dominance.''

Later that month, Mfume spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, where he praised the party's presidential ticket of Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards. But after the election, Bush invited Mfume to the White House for a private meeting, which an NAACP press release described as a "surprise move."

His departure from the NAACP has triggered speculation that Mfume may run for the U.S. Senate if incumbent Maryland Democrat Paul Sarbanes decides to forego a re-election campaign.

Philosophical differences, or just time to go?

Jacques' departure was even more surprising, given that she was in charge at the Human Rights Campaign for less than a year.

"Cheryl achieved a great deal as HRC president," said Gwen Baba, co-chair of the group's board of directors. "We will miss her leadership and professionalism, but we understand her desire to move on to other challenges."

However, the website quoted sources as saying there was "friction" between Jacques and some board members over "the style in which Jacques handled key issues." One such issue was the 2004 election.

Under Jacques' leadership, the HRC adopted "George Bush, You're Fired!" as its election-year mantra, which was even displayed from a tractor-trailer during the Republican National Convention in New York City last August.

While Jacques' leadership of the HRC was short, Feldt's presence at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America spanned three decades, during which time the organization increasingly relied on abortion for revenue and came under attack for allegedly exploiting the urban poor, especially blacks.

However, PPFA Chairman Don Love issued a press release to "honor Gloria Feldt's contributions to Planned Parenthood and to the global movement for reproductive justice." The release declared that Feldt's "leadership has resulted in significant achievements for the organization and for women and families worldwide."

Feldt also served as head of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which threw its support behind the Kerry for president campaign during a rally last April 23, the first such endorsement in the history of what PPFA describes as its "independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit political arm."

"Senator Kerry has been a consistent and passionate advocate for women's rights throughout his distinguished career in public office," Feldt said at the rally, "and we enthusiastically pledge to support his commitment to domestic and global women's health through this endorsement.

"We must stop the Bush administration's war on choice," she continued. "This administration has no respect for the medical privacy or fundamental rights of women."

During that April 2004 rally, Feldt warned that "there's never been a more frightening time for the future of reproductive rights." The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, she promised, would "make sure that pro-choice Americans know exactly what's at stake in this election.

"Together, we will make a difference on Election Day," she said, seven months before Kerry lost to Bush.

'Less than meets the eye'

The NAACP, HRC and PPFA all named interim leaders when those organizations initiated nationwide searches for new presidents.

Since the results of the 2004 election were not listed by Mfume, Jacques or Feldt as a reason for stepping down, Michael Barone, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and co-author of "The Almanac of American Politics," pointed out that "some people hold jobs like this for many, many years, and people step down from these jobs for a variety of reasons.

"I don't know anything that would suggest this is anything but a coincidence," Barone said.

While acknowledging similarities in the three leaders' situations, John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government at the libertarian Cato Institute, called the resignations "a normal development.

"There's less here than meets the eye," Samples said.

"There's just not a lot of evidence that the positions any of these groups took and the strategies they adopted were really deadly for Kerry," he noted. "You could argue that the gay marriage issue hurt the Democrats, and pushing it turned out to be a bad idea, but I don't think there's anywhere near a consensus on this that would lead to someone having to resign.

"More than anything else, I'm inclined to think that these resignations are time-related," Samples said. "We had an election, and this is a good time to step down and move on to something else -- and also to let someone else get started early on the next election cycle."

The NAACP, Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood remained on the sidelines in the weeks leading up to Dean's election as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but now may be willing to follow Dean's lead in establishing the strategic tone for the next round of national elections in 2006.

"Dean can be a wild card," Earll from Focus on the Family said, in response to how the new DNC chairman might conduct political operations. "If you go by his track record, he does tend to pull to the left, but not on everything. He may remake himself to be more moderate, but I don't believe that's who he really is."

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