The Republican big tent was a centerpiece of the party's national convention in San Diego. But some black Republicans in Arkansas are complaining there isn't enough canvas in Gov. Mike Huckabee's tent to include minority staff.
Since taking office July 15, Huckabee has hired 49 staff members, twelve of them are black, said Jim Harris, a spokesman for the governor's office. Six of those are holdovers from the administration of Jim Guy Tucker. Some black supporters are steamed that Huckabee hasn't hired more, even though Huckabee's overall minority staffing compares favorably with the percentage of minorities in the state's population.
"He thinks he's going to give us all the peanut jobs after the good ones are given out," said one black Republican, who asked not to be identified. "He knows who we are and what we've done for him. We're not going to beg him." one said.
Clare Alale of Pine Bluff, a black member of Huckabee's transition team and a delegate to the San Diego convention, says she's heard a few of the complaints herself.
"People are kind of antsy," she said.
Among the 12 hires are Vence Smith, a regulatory liaison; Sandra Winston, a health and human services liaison; Michael Perkins, a scheduler for chief of staff Brenda Turner; computer specialist Adrian Garmon, and receptionist Angela Watson.
The remaining seven black employees are administrative assistants, the lowest paid jobs in the office.
The governor's office is authorized to have 55 employees. But Harris said he didn't know if the governor had plans to expand his staff. Former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker had a staff of 51, including 16 blacks.
Huckabee created an early racial ripple when, in his first major administrative move, axed one of the top blacks in state government. In a well-publicized move that angered some blacks, Huckabee asked for the resignation on Aug. 7 of Vincent Tilford, president of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority. Three Huckabee aides escorted him from the building the same day.
Some are worried that a mostly white staff will signal potential black party members that the Republicans aren't serious about representing them.
The GOP state committee voted in September 1990 to start a black caucus and set aside funds for minority outreach. But Alale, who chairs the minority outreach effort, said she hasn't spent a dime of the money since 1994. The party is trying to revive an effort to start a black caucus to look out for minority interests and bring in new members, Alale said.
"It's no longer whosoever let them come. You've got to go get them," she said. "I think with a sitting governor, the party is going to have to be much more visible in the black community."
Rev. Jessie Turner of Pine Bluff, who worked in Huckabee's campaign for lieutenant governor, said he thinks Huckabee will eventually have more blacks in his administration than Tucker did.
"As a black Republican, I'd certainly like to see more African-Americans hired if the positions are open and if the people are qualified," he said. "But I don't think he's going to set any quotas."
Alale and Turner said they're willing to give Huckabee time to get grounded before judging the governor's hiring practices. But Alale said she doesn't want to wait forever.
"If nothing happens in the next two months, I would probably have something to say about it," she said. "I'm not trying to hedge on this, but I'm not ready to start killing him either."
Print headline: "Arkansas Reporter" August 30, 1996.