Republican vice chair visits Summit to share strategies for diversity | SummitDaily.com

Republican vice chair visits Summit to share strategies for diversity

Elise Reuter
ereuter@summitdaily.com

The Colorado State Republican Party's vice chairman spoke at the Elks Lodge on Friday, the first time a GOP state affiliate has visited Summit in two years. The newly-elected Derrick Wilburn shared strategies for revitalizing the party by reaching a broader group of voters that evening.

"The biggest battle we have in the Republican Party is the battle against perceptions," Wilburn said. "The problem, in my opinion, when it comes to reaching ethnic minorities, isn't policy-based so much as it is a lack of relationship. Policies come, go and change. Some are good, some are bad."

Wilburn's platform to better engage with minority voters across the state earned him his position of vice chairman in March. Before that, Wilburn's first foray into politics was holding a meet-and-greet at his Colorado Springs home to help garner support for U.S. Rep. Ken Buck's campaign.

Since then, he has moved forward to found Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives, among other organizations, and created a five-point plan for minority inclusion.

"What do we do about it?" he asked the group of Summit County Republicans.

"It's getting out in the streets and talking to people and getting out of the little circles that we run over and over," Wilburn said. "We need to get away from being Republicans that go to Republican meetings that feature Republicans talking to Republicans about being Republicans."

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Wilburn's concerns are relevant, not just on the state level, but also the national level. A July 2013 study by the Pew Research Center shows that younger Republicans believe nominating more minorities would help with national elections. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans ages 18-39 agreed with this statement, compared with 49 percent of Republicans ages 40 and up.

Wilburn encouraged local leaders to focus on getting involved in their communities, helping at schools and churches and going to events to build relationships before hunting for votes.

"This may take time — this may take decades. We didn't get here overnight," he said. "Turning this ship around won't happen in one election cycle. But, if nobody starts doing it, it'll never get done."

Another Pew Report, conducted in April, shows the amount of work Republicans have before them. According to the survey, Democrats hold a significant advantage in the percentage of minorities that identify with the party, including 80 percent of African Americans (compared with 11 percent who identified as Republicans), 65 percent of Asian Americans (compared with 23 percent) and 56 percent of Hispanics (compared with 26 percent). Meanwhile, Republicans hold an advantage among Caucasians, with 49 percent identifying as Republicans, compared with 40 percent who identify as Democrats.

Paltry Participation

Within Summit, both parties battle low participation and voter turnout. As of April 2015, 28 percent of the county's voters were inactive, meaning they had not participated in the last even-year election or responded to notifications to update their status.

"I think it's extremely difficult to help Summit County voters overcome their natural apathy," said Summit County Republicans chairman Kim McGahey. "They choose not to be involved, choose not to participate … . There's a very low threshold of activism around here."

Voters in the area are primarily registered as independent, at nearly 8,000 strong. The Colorado Secretary of State reports that Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in the county, at 5,147 versus 4,305, but McGahey said independents in the area tend to swing left.

"We're slowly building up the number of people who come to our events," said Summit County Republicans secretary Elizabeth Wickert. "We want everyone to know our party is a diverse party."

The group is meeting this week to discuss strategies to reach out to minority voters in the county. They hope to bring Wilburn to Summit again for Frisco's annual BBQ Challenge in June.