Column: GOP should expand its tent

Everybody would be welcome to this party.

On Saturday, Jack Kemp, a former Republican congressman and 1996 vice presidential nominee, died after a long fight with cancer. In Congress, Kemp was an early and tireless advocate for the supply-side economics, which eventually became Reagan Administration policies. Later, Kemp served in former President George H.W. Bush's administration as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Eventually, Kemp would run alongside Bob Dole in an unsuccessful bid for the White House.

To me, the life and legacy of Kemp represents everything the Republican Party has forgotten. Kemp understood conservative, free-market ideals have value outside of white suburbia. He strongly advocated for the creation of "enterprise zones" to spur minority entrepreneurship and improve inner-city communities. As secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he worked to bring pro-growth, free-market solutions to disadvantaged minority communities. Kemp understood the GOP has to be more than a party that appeals to rich, white businessmen. Kemp saw the Republican Party as a big tent party, a party of many people and of even more ideas.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Penn., left the Republican Party, believing it was no longer tolerant of his more liberal views. I believe Specter's decision to leave the party was remarkably selfish. I deeply disagree with his decision. Just because Specter doesn't vote the conservative line all the time doesn't mean he can't be a Republican. Jack Kemp was a bold conservative, but sought to include people in the Republican Party from all across the political spectrum.

As a New York Congressman, Kemp reached out to voters who don't traditionally vote for Republicans, namely African Americans. In the 1970s and 1980s, when many Republicans ignored the inner city, Kemp actively sought support from the black community. In Missouri, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has a similar reputation.

In 2008, Kinder was the only Republican elected to statewide office. Kinder won by building a broad based coalition -- he sought and received the support of many prominent black leaders in St. Louis. The Rev. Ronald Bobo of West Side Missionary Baptist Church said in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report that Kinder had "worked with our African-American leaders to help us improve the lives of the hard-working people in our communities."

It's leaders such as Kinder and examples such as Kemp who Republicans need to look to when drafting plans for the party's future.

A lot of opportunities are coming up for Republicans. Former eBay President and chief executive Meg Whitman recently declared her candidacy for governor of California. Whitman and I disagree on abortion, she supports its legal status, and I do not. I strongly disagree with her on abortion, but agree with her on nearly every other issue. I think she is a remarkably well-qualified candidate, and she doesn't have to hold to every plank of the party's platform to be a Republican.

I am proudly and unapologetically conservative. I want the Republican Party to continue to be the great champion of conservative ideals. This doesn't mean that moderates, independents and progressives aren't welcome in the GOP. The party should be proudly conservative, but be even prouder to welcome people of all political persuasions and all walks of life into our very big tent.

Marcus Bowen is a former vice president of the MU College Republicans and serves with the Jackson County Republican Party. He can be reached at

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