Danae Columbus: Democrats court young progressives and black women for 2020 election

Print More
Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer made a wise choice in his selection of former Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams, 45, to deliver the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address February 5. A rising star who narrowly lost a bid for governor in 2018, Abrams preached a vision of prosperity and equality that resonated with voters and donors. As a rebuttal speaker to President Trump, Abrams represents three important target audiences Democrats must stitch together – she is an African-American female, under the age of 50, and progressive — rather than liberal-to-a-fault, like many of the party’s fiery new faces.

The majority of voters between the ages of 18 and 49 supported Democrats in the mid-term elections, as did 56 percent of women, as well as urban and suburban voters. According to the New York Times, younger voters including Republicans are “drifting to the left” on social issues. Members of Generation Z (those born after 1996) are one of the most “ethnically diverse and progressive age groups” in U.S. history. A new report by the Pew Research Center shows that these voters are more open to social change – a shift that could “reshape the nation’s political and economic landscape.” Only 30 percent of the 900 youth surveyed online said they approved of President Trump’s performance. The majority believe that humans are causing climate change and that government should do more to solve the nation’s problems. Coupled with the Millennial generation, these two groups are poised to change the direction of politics in the 2020 elections and beyond.

According to the Wall Street Journal, African-American females were the most reliable voting bloc for Democrats in 2018. Ninety-two percent of African-American women voted for Democrats in the mid-term elections making them a must-court constituency for any presidential candidate.

Declared presidential candidates including California Senator Kamala Harris understand their path to victory runs through early primary states such as South Carolina that enjoy a large Democratic bases of non-white voters. Harris is galvanizing early support by positioning herself as the first African-American female president contender who happens to be half Indian – which would also make her the first president of Asian descent.

Harris’ popularity among African-American voters may be challenged when Sen. Cory Booker enters the race. Also preparing to make inroads are the other Democratic contenders who are shaping their messages to include the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, while atoning for past positions that could be viewed negatively by African-American voters. They are also taking stands on social issues that would never have risen to the forefront in previous presidential campaigns.

Passionate young progressives are succeeding in moving the Democratic Party platform in a direction that is perhaps uncomfortable for many party traditionalists. The robust debate on the Democrats 2020 platform and its future leaders will intensify at next week’s mid-winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee. Louisiana DNC’s representatives including Deborah Langhoff and Arthur Morrell along with Congressman Cedric Richmond and DNC co-chair Karen Carter Peterson will have a front row seat for the inevitable fireworks.

The apparent national swing toward more liberal politics has yet to be felt in Louisiana, however. Each speaker at the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference articulated his or her strategy to increase support among women, youth and people of color. An enthusiastic audience of party faithful felt secure that Republican orthodoxy and dominance of state and parish offices will continue in Louisiana through the 2020 elections. President Trump might have taken a hit in the polls during the recent federal shutdown, but he still has plenty of time to sell his message before Election Day.


The One-App city-wide public school enrollment plan, the school bus system and the lack of high quality schools in every neighborhood are also driving the reduction of kindergarten registration. Parents don’t want to leave their young children at the bus stop in the pre-dawn hours to ride across town to an underperforming charter school that was previously an underperforming public school. There are only so many kindergarten slots at Lusher, Baby Ben, Audubon Charter and other high-performing schools. Parents who don’t draw a preferred school during One-App and have the available resources are leaving their children in daycare until first grade. They might even place their child in a Catholic or private elementary school only to return to the OPSB charter system if they draw a top choice high school.

The recent California teachers’ strike dampened the charter school movement in California and across America. Democratic presidential candidates have taken notice and are speaking out for teachers. Strong unions in many states and even in Louisiana’s parishes outside New Orleans have been able to limit the proliferation of charter schools in their areas. Some local charter schools do a great job in educating students, but many of them were high performing public schools before Hurricane Katrina.


Several thousand educators will descend on New Orleans February 4-6 for the Center for Development and Learning’s Plain Talk About Learning and Literacy conference. Dozens of speakers will focus on the importance of literacy but will also cover such diverse topics as how minority children can achieve the American Dream.

Of special interest will be remarks by St. Louis public schools superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams, who previously served as RSD Chief of Staff and Associate Dean/charter school liaison at SUNO. Adams will talk about servant leadership and the transformation he was able to create in St. Louis. He will also discuss the “Kalamazoo Promise,” an enterprising effort by Michigan’s business, political, cultural and non-profit leaders to “look beyond their traditional turfs” and partner with the public schools to support at-risk students. “Promise” participants are a holistic group including food banks, housing advocates, mental health experts and representatives of arts organizations. They believe when at-risk students receive the best education possible, they are better able to contribute to the larger community’s economic growth and development – a lesson still lost to many in New Orleans.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *