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Delegates' Ethnicities Don't Match State's

By Kevin McCullough
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2004

COLLEGE PARK - While diversity is important to both major political parties, neither the Maryland Democrats nor Republicans took delegations to their national conventions that perfectly match the state's complexion.

The state is 64 percent white and nearly 30 percent black, with 4.3 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian, according to 2000 census figures.

When the national Republican Party convenes Monday, 75 Marylanders will be among the expected 5,000 other delegates and alternates in New York City for the occasion. More than three-fourths of the state's GOP delegation is white.

Maryland Democrats brought a group that was more diverse, at 68 percent Caucasian.

"We think it's important that all of our Democrats feel like they have a stake in the process," said Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director Josh White.

But the state's Republicans have made a considerable effort attracting Hispanics to the party - creating a special Hispanic caucus to insure the group a voice in the process - and it paid off this year with a delegation that is 6 percent Hispanic.

Attracting minorities has, in the past, been one of the Republican Party's weak points, Maryland Republican Party Political Director Joe Cluster said. That is one of the reasons why the Maryland GOP is reaching out to minority communities.

"You can't win by being the party of the white male," Cluster said.

The Democratic delegation was 2 percent Hispanic, less than half the state's percentage.

Luis Borunda, chairman of the Hispanic Republicans of Maryland, said the Republican Party is making "real and substantive" efforts to reach out to minorities nationwide, knowing how important the minority vote is.

"I'm excited to be part of the team," Borunda said.

But the Republican Party is not out to guarantee that any particular number of any specific group, or a "quota," is represented in the delegation, Cluster said.

Other than the outreach efforts and encouraging minority candidates to submit their names for election to the delegation, the Maryland Republican Party does not take any active role in ensuring the diversity in ethnic backgrounds of its delegates, Cluster said.

The Maryland delegation to the Democratic National Convention was more diverse than the Republican delegation, but Cluster noted that the Democrats took an active role in determining the racial composition of its delegation.

Cluster said that the usage of quotas to determine a delegation's diversity may limit participation, and may stop the best qualified candidates from taking part.

Ryan O'Doherty, Maryland Democratic Party spokesman, said the party does not use mandatory quotas to determine its delegation's racial composition. Instead, he said, the party has representation goals for each minority group based on the racial composition of Maryland's electorate.

The Maryland Democratic Party delegate selection plan explicitly states that the party will not impose any system of mandatory quotas to achieve their representation goals, White said, however it allows for the selection of at-large delegates to increase minority representation. White also confirmed the Maryland Democratic Party did meet its diversity goals for its 2004 convention delegation.

The minority representation in both delegations is predominantly African- American, comprising 13 percent of the Republican delegation and 22 percent of the Democratic delegation.

The Republican delegation also includes one Arab-American delegate and one Asian-American delegate.

Both parties saw Christianity predominate the reported religious affiliations of delegates, but the Republicans often declined to comment on religious preferences, making it difficult to evaluate.

The Republican delegation includes one Hindu delegate, a Muslim delegate and a Mennonite delegate.

In addition, he Republican Party is attempting to showcase its diversity efforts at the convention with Michael Steele, Maryland's lieutenant governor, addressing the convention, Cluster said. Steele is the first black elected to the state's No. 2 political post.

Copyright 2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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