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Frederick Douglass and the D.C. Republican Party

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass by George K. Warren.

On June 19, the statue of Frederick Douglass, representing the ideals and aspirations of residents of the District of Columbia, will take its official place in the United States Capitol, with a welcoming ceremony before the U. S. Congress and invited guests. The District of Columbia Republican Party salutes this occasion with great pride, for Douglass represents the outstanding heritage of the Republican Party in its fight for the abolition of slavery, and for freedom and justice for African-American citizens.  His example was an inspiration to Republicans in his day, and his commitment to freedom and justice for all continues to inspire members of the D.C. Republican Party and its candidates for office.  Douglass fought in his time for voting representation in Congress for District residents, and we, his heirs in the leadership of the D.C. Republican Party, continue that struggle today.

After taking up residence in the District of Columbia in 1870, Frederick Douglass accepted a seat on the 100-member Republican Committee of the District of Columbia, and continued his association with the Committee until his death in 1895. Prior to joining the Committee, however, Douglass served as an adviser to the local Republican Party during the Civil War and helped the party persuade President Lincoln and Congress to pass the 1862 legislation emancipating the 3,000 slaves owned in the District of Columbia. For many years, Douglass and the local Republican Party participated in the annual Emancipation Day Parade held on April 16, the day in 1862 that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Act.

Douglass was a precinct leader for the election district surrounding his residence in the Anacostia neighborhood. His responsibilities included presiding over meetings of local residents to solicit their concerns about government policies and services.

After moving to the District in 1870, Douglass continued his attendance at nominating conventions initiated during his participation in the affairs of the Republican Party of New York. He also continued to stump for Republican Party presidential candidates, as he had since supporting candidate Abraham Lincoln. The D.C. Republican Party has sent voting delegations to every Presidential Nominating Convention since the first convention in 1856.

The D.C. Republican Party is the second-oldest state level Republican Party. Only the Republican Party of Wisconsin is older. At its organization in 1855, the D.C. Republican Party adopted its first issues and principles platform.  The 1855 platform advocated the immediate emancipation of all persons held as slaves in the District of Columbia, noting that Congress had the authority to do this under the District Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The 1876 Platform was drafted by a committee on which Douglass served and proclaimed the local Republican Party’s consistent support of elected local government and voting representation in Congress. In 1874, Congress revoked the electoral rights of District residents, and the 1876 platform announced: “Taxation without representation is tyranny, and … the unjust disenfranchisement of this District is contrary to the spirit of Republican Institutions; a flagrant encroachment upon the inherent rights of citizenship, and an unpardonable violation of the Constitution.”

The current D.C. Republican Party Platform continues to support District voting rights with the following plank: “Congress should enact legislation proposed by Republicans to exempt residents of the District of Columbia from federal income taxation until District residents are granted voting rights in Congress and local budget and legislative autonomy.” The platform also continues to support full equality for all citizens.

Robert Turner is executive director of the D.C. Republican Party. Reach him at or on Twitter at @RobertTurnerDC.


Log Cabin official to head GOP in D.C.

Robert Turner II, Log Cabin Republicans

Outgoing D.C. Log Cabin Republicans President Robert Turner II. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Robert Turner, president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Washington, D.C., is expected to step down from that post later this month to become executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee.

Turner was to be appointed to the executive director’s position by Ron Phillips, who was the strong favorite to win election on Jan. 10 as chair of the 126-member DCRC, which serves as the governing body of the city’s Republican Party.

Turner would replace Nick Jeffress, the executive director who resigned at the end of last year and was appointed by outgoing DCRC Chair Robert Kabel.

Kabel, who’s gay and is the former president of the board of the national group Log Cabin Republicans, won election last year as one of D.C.’s representatives on the Republican National Committee. He’s ineligible for another term as DCRC chair because of a term limit rule.

Turner is believed to be the first out gay to serve as executive director of a state or D.C. Republican Party committee.

A native of Austin, Texas, Turner moved to D.C. in 1995 to work as a congressional staff member before starting his own political consulting company, The Turner Group.

He also serves on the board of Capital Pride Alliance, the governing body in charge of running D.C.’s annual Capital Pride parade and festival.

Turner said voter outreach would be his top priority when he assumes the day-to-day operations of the DCRC.

“Most people who live in D.C. either think the party doesn’t exist or it’s a joke,” he said of the city’s Republican Party.

“And we need to change that mentality,” he said. “We need to show that we are a viable alternative to the corruption in the Wilson Building. We need to talk to voters, first and foremost, and see what their ideas are and then show them how the Republican Party of D.C. can jell with their ideas.”

He said the DCRC’s top priority in the first part of this year is to help elect GOP candidate Patrick Mara, the current Ward 1 school board member, to the City Council in a special election in April to fill an at-large seat.

The seat became vacant when Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) won election as Council chair. The seat was filled last month on a temporary basis under city election rules when the D.C. Democratic State Committee appointed its chair, Anita Bonds, as interim Council member until the special election is held on April 23.

Mara is a longtime supporter of LGBT rights and testified before the Council in 2009 in support of the city’s same-sex marriage bill, which passed in the Council later that year.

Turner said he believes Mara has a shot at winning the special election if Republican and independent voters as well as a sizable number of gays who supported Mara in the past turn out in large numbers.

“There are 30,000 Republicans and 350,000 Democrats,” he said in pointing to the city’s voter registration rolls. “But there’s also about 80,000 registered independents that we can tap into, and a lot of those voters are disaffected voters.”

Turner was quick to reply when asked what he thinks the national Republican Party should do in the wake of President Obama’s defeat of GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney.

“Well, the first thing the party needs to do is talk to more people than straight, white men,” he said. “There are women, gays. There are minorities out there who believe in the principles of the Republican Party – of less government, less taxes, less regulations and a strong military. Let’s talk to those people and show them Republican Party ideals work in tandem with their principles as individuals.”