|Linda E. Softli|
I’ve always felt that we all have a responsibility to our homes, communities and our neighborhoods. The only way this country can run right is for people to get out there and participate in the process.
Did you work with other black leaders to get African-Americans out to the polls in this past presidential election?
In the last election, and every election, I always carry around voter registration forms and tell folks to vote. It doesn’t matter what party they belong to, I just want people to participate in the political process — find out what the issues are, participate in the town meetings, take the issues to the community, write to their mayor, governor, state representative and even the president.
You are founder and president of the Black Republican Women International (BRWI).
We are a black Republican women’s organization that several of us started together three years ago. Quite a few of us wanted to have an organization of our own to build a network that supports, campaigns and fundraises for black Republican women running for office. Our goals include encouraging African-American and other women of color to get involved in politics. If they have the gumption to get out there and run for office, be leaders and make decisions, then we want them out there getting elected. We feel women of color have something to contribute to our community and our country. We also established BWRI to be a major resource to the major political organizations out there: the White House, the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee. We also work with youth to educate and encourage them to get involved in the political process.
Most African-Americans tend to be loyal supporters of the Democratic Party. Have you been criticized by left-leaning black political movers for your allegiance to the GOP?
Oh yes. A number of people have tried to say that I am not really “black” because I support the GOP. I disregard that and instead concentrate on making it better for women and youth to get actively involved in the political process. You find a lot of liberals just want to concentrate on black negativism when that’s not what black people are all about. They should realize that the focus should be on helping others get work and a good education, developing ourselves spiritually, and uplifting our community. Some people feel that black conservatives are not truly black when that’s not true. If you go and sit down with the average black family, you will find that they are very conservative in their thinking.
Where would you say African-Americans lean politically?
We are a spiritually based people. Biblical teachings are part of our culture and development. Blacks' political roots are in the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, but then after the Great Depression the Democrats ushered in Franklin Delano Roosevelt armed with the New Deal. FDR’s New Deal brought in not only a lot of blacks to the Democratic Party, but a lot of whites. There were a lot of programs that Roosevelt did not intend to keep, as he was a very conservative Democrat himself. However, it was a turning of times in the country, and that’s when you saw a lot of blacks align themselves with the Democrat Party. There were still a lot of blacks voting Republican in both the elections of Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower got tremendous support from the old line Republican blacks. After Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy came in. Then came Lyndon B. Johnson with his vision for “A Great Society,” which solidified the black vote with the Democratic Party. “A Great Society” brought in a lot of changes socially in the country, which the civil rights movement played an instrumental part. Not only the African-American civil rights movement, but also women’s civil rights, and other oppressed groups in the county. Then Jimmy Carter, especially since he was a former Southern governor, gained a lot of the black votes. The Republicans lost more footing with the black community when Ronald Reagan was elected, though some conservative blacks continued to vote Republican. If you fast-forward to George W. Bush, I would say things are really beginning to turn around.
So are you saying that the pendulum among black voters is swinging back to the Right?
Yes, very much so. I think President Bush has done a lot of outreach to the African-American community. He’s hired a lot more blacks in his administration, more than any other president. He’s showing that blacks can hold key positions, from Colin Powell to Condoleezza Rice, and many other undersecretaries.
Did you come from a family with deep roots in the GOP?
Not really. My mother was a firm Democrat and my father was a Republican. When I first moved to D.C. from Seattle, Washington, I was involved with the D.C. Young Democrats. But then I found my way politically, saw what was going on, and moved on. I found the DNC convention of the 60s and 70s repeated the same old story: “We’re pushing this program or that program.” Someone was always pushing programs, instead of pushing people to motivate themselves. That’s when I really made my move.
Where do you stand as a conservative on an explosive issue like affirmative action?
A lot of African-Americans benefited from affirmative action, including myself. I’m not totally against affirmative action, though a lot still has to be done in order for blacks, women and people with low incomes to come up on the same stratosphere of what you call the white middle class. If you look at the people in D.C., in one ward the yearly average income may be $80,000, and in other wards people live on $20,000 a year.
You have been referring to income disparities. Do you believe that affirmative action should be solely based on preferences for people with low income?
Not at all — race is still a major issue. We still have a lot of people in America who still don’t believe in equality for everybody. However, blacks have made a lot of strides educationally and economically, but a lot of us are not taking advantage. Again, President Bush has done a lot of outreach in terms of increasing the number of blacks who are homeowners, helping minority small-business owners, and working to create more jobs. I’m proud of where we’ve come, especially in the last 40 years.
What do you see as priorities for the African-American community?
Two things: a good education and healthcare, because of the disparities that divide our community from other racial groups. There is enough innovation as far as healthcare, but the main push has to be educating our people on how to take advantage of the available resources. I spent a year trying to educate African-American seniors on health and residential resources available to them. I'm also concerned about AIDS in the African-American community, especially among women and people over 50. I think it's great that the President wants to establish health centers in various communities. I especially want to see this happen because a lot of blacks do not have access to healthcare facilities, especially in the deep South, due to transportation and other issues.
Where do you stand on the president’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)?
I absolutely support it. Accountability is very important in our schools. We have put millions of dollars in our public school, and they have not responded in kind. I’m not blaming the teachers and the academicians. A lot of the blame should go to the parents and the community.
Are you a supporter of NCLB’s mandatory standardized testing of third through eighth graders every year?
We have to do something to make teachers, parents and children accountable. I do understand that for a lot of people testing is intimidating, but we have to do something to make people move and make change and brighten our children’s future.
Linda E. Softli is president of the Black Republican Women International, and has worked on numerous Republican campaigns. She has played an integral role in the GOP's outreach efforts to the African-American community by serving on the Republican National Committee's Majority Council and the National Black Republican Council. For the past four years, she has served as the president of the Black Adults of Action Section of the National Council of Negro Women in Washington, D.C. and served as a member for thirty-four years. The council impacts legislation on issues affecting women of color. Worked with programs such as Border Babies, YWCA, Washington Center Senior Citizens, Turner School Mentoring, GEM Girls enhancement, Shiloh Unmarried Mothers, housing projects, Office of the Mayor, Congress, and the White House. Softli is also president and founder of Gala Special Events, a public affairs consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. that has conducted business with local and national community organizations, corporations, faith-based institutions, and the government since its inception in 1993.