Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. He launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. You can follow People’s District on Twitter @PeoplesDistrict, and can read his previous columns here.
“While my parents are Republican, they weren’t raising me to become one. I came to the party on my own. The thing that really provoked me to get political was when Bill Clinton left office. You may remember that as he was leaving, he took a bunch of stuff from the White House that wasn’t his and also pardoned some people who were not that great. As all of this was happening, he got an opportunity to speak at a school by my college and was paid something like $100,000 for the lecture. I thought it was ridiculous that people wanted to pay so much for him while there were all of these ongoing scandals around him. I was annoyed and decided that I wanted to get involved in Republican politics, so I went to work for New Jersey Assemblyman Steven Corodemus. From there, I took a job with the Republican Party in Massachusetts.
“While I was in Boston, I met a woman who is now my wife, and she eventually took a job down in D.C. I followed her here, and got a job as the Executive Director of the D.C. Republican Committee. As a Republican, I thought that Massachusetts was probably the most difficult state party to work in. Somehow, I managed to fall into one that is even more difficult. D.C. has over 70% registered Democrats and we are outnumbered 11-1. If D.C. were a state, it would be by far the most democratic state in the country.
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“The good news for Republicans in D.C. is that while people here generally vote Democratic for the presidential elections, locally they want alternatives. In the past, those alternatives have been people like Republican Councilmembers Jerry Moore, Carol Schwartz, and David Catania who is now an Independent.
“Our candidates here have typically run on the issues of crime, education, and taxes. On education, Republicans want to expand our charter schools and continue some of the progress made by Michelle Rhee. Many of us had a feeling that Obama coming in might not be so bad and may actually help the education system in D.C. Then, we saw him kill the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which, in my mind, is a perfect example of him putting interest politics in front of the kids in D.C.
“The program provided about 1,700 low-income, minority children with a small scholarship to go to a private or parochial school of their choosing. A new crop of students was selected by lottery and sent acceptance letters. Then, the White House and Arnie Duncan’s office pulled the funding and had to send a letter to the families saying that the scholarship was revoked. It was a really sad day for our schools. Our kids need help and options now, not promises that D.C. Public Schools will get better in 15 years.
“We also feel that D.C. needs to be a more business friendly environment. Did you know that D.C. is the 51st best place to do business in the country? Just go look at Cleveland Park, which is a very affluent neighborhood, and you will see a lot of vacant buildings and closed shops. There is a reason for that. They get overtaxed and their rents go up and they can’t afford to stay in business. We want to make it easier to do business in this city, end cronyism, and see that our tax dollars are spent better at the local level.
“From a political perspective, we have seen these issues help our party and candidates gain votes. In this past election cycle, Dave Hedgepeth, a first-time Republican, ran in Ward 3 against a very popular incumbent. You will see that while he may not have won, in some precincts he was able to beat Mary Cheh, which is very impressive and the first time in recent memory that a Republican has done that. We also had Patrick Mara, a former Republican candidate for City Council, win the Ward 1 schoolboard seat.
“While the Council may remain Democratic, we look at our gains where we can find them. This past election was an important gain for us, and we hope that next cycle will bring even better returns. Until then, our office will continue to recruit and train candidates and help them run for office. During the off-season, we will work with the Democrats at the Wilson building and hold them accountable.
“You know, when I started this job over three years ago and people asked me what I did, they would always say, ‘I didn’t know there was even a Republican party in D.C.’ I have worked hard with our committee and staff to change that. Now, when I tell people what I do, they say, ‘I heard about your candidate or your platform,’ which is great progress for us. While I think about how much easier my job would be if I worked in a red state like, Texas, I like working for the Republican Committee in D.C. because when you win, the victories are so much more meaningful.”
If you have any questions for Paul or where the DCGOP stands on certain issues, contact him directly at [email protected], Twitter @pauldiegocraney, or work direct 202 407-7069.