Partisan politics trump African-American interests for local NAACP chapter head

OPINION - NAACP made a mistake in hiring a partisan operative to run its chapter

When Roy Tatum isn’t selling pre-paid legal services or running the local NAACP chapter, he is running another business, Vanguard Strategies and Consulting LLC.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has a broad mission statement, but as its name implies, its primary concerns are non-partisan – equality, civil rights, and educating persons as to their constitutional rights and taking lawful action to secure the exercise thereof.

Nothing in their mission statement is remotely partisan, so why does this group keep putting partisan politics ahead of the best interests of its members?

In February, East Valley NAACP-Arizona President Roy Tatum launched a personal attack on newly-elected Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Payson. At the time, Tatum had called on his social media followers to take Blackman to task for “voting along party lines.” The social media call to action was preceded by an encounter between Tatum and Blackman at the Arizona African-American Legislative Conference in Phoenix.

According to Blackman, Tatum menacingly told him to “watch his back.”

Blackman is himself African American, one of just three in the Arizona Legislature. As such, his presence ought to be celebrated by the NAACP– except Blackman is a Republican and a conservative as well. To the East Valley NAACP leader that makes him a top target, because keeping the African-American vote solidly Democrat is the real priority.

Why? Well it’s a chicken-and-egg situation – either the local NAACP wants to depart from its stated mission to be a partisan group, so it hired a partisan operative to run the show, or the NAACP made a mistake in hiring a partisan operative to run the show, and now finds itself being used for largely partisan purposes instead of the group’s stated mission. Only they know for sure which it is.

When Roy Tatum isn’t selling pre-paid legal services or running the local NAACP chapter, he is running another business, Vanguard Strategies and Consulting LLC. Tatum worked for Obama for President and later for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. His website also lists a few other projects around the country and one Arizona client, State Rep. Reginald Bolding Jr., D-27, the minority party whip.

Listen to Tatum, talking with KNST host Garrett Lewis, equate the Make America Great Again slogan with a racist dog whistle.

Tatum admitted in an interview with Tucson radio show host Garrett Lewis that his targets for attack are selected on the simple basis of whether they agree with him politically or not. In his world view, people who wear Make America Great Again hats are probably white supremacists or their apologists. The interview is eye-opening in terms of the bias Tatum brings to his daily life and work.

Tatum’s partisan agenda is also visible in the lead role he has played in attacking Republican David Stringer for alleged racist remarks, including threatening the city of Prescott (in Stringer’s district) with an NAACP boycott. His client, Bolding, was one of two members who have filed ethics complaints against Stringer.

All this in spite of Stringer’s lead role in promoting and advancing Criminal Justice Reform – a top objective of the NAACP. Many of Stringer’s Republican detractors dislike him because of his support for reform of the criminal justice system, and you might think a conservative Republican standing up to his own party to lead on an issue of that magnitude would have the support of people like Tatum.

Stringer may have been inarticulate, but his assessment that we do not live in a colorblind society is precisely what social justice warriors say every day. And Stringer’s long history of work, often pro bono, on behalf of minority clients is a strong testament to his commitment to justice for all.

Still, in a 31-29 Republican majority, taking out a conservative lawmaker during the session and leaving the GOP with just 30 votes for several weeks is simply too enticing to partisans like Tatum and his client, Bolding.

In the meantime, Stringer’s committee on Criminal Justice Reform has been shut down and meaningful Criminal Justice Reform legislation has been gutted or killed outright. That means that thousands of minority inmates behind bars will remain there, in part because Tatum preferred to put his partisan agenda first.

Tatum’s desire to take down Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, will often run counter to the best interests of the NAACP. Still, the NAACP  hires whoever they want, and if they want someone who will make the group a partisan group, they have every right to do so.

But anyone dealing with the NAACP on any issue will need to re-consider their goals and purposes. After all, talking about issues of race with a group that wants to improve the country for all Americans is one thing. Talking about those issues with a group whose primary goal is to take down Republicans is something else entirely.