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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Want to know about the soul of Black conservatives? Larry Elder will teach you

Twenty-seven years ago, I was co-hosting a nightly radio show at ABC News Radio in Los Angeles. Across the hall, in the same studio, sat an African American conservative who was hosting a show of his own.

After both shows wrapped up at midnight, we’d sometimes go to breakfast at an all-night diner in Hollywood and do what talk show hosts do: talk. We’d talk about where the city, state and country were going — and where they should go.

That radio host was Larry Elder. Raised in South Central Los Angeles, Elder graduated from Crenshaw High School before going on to Brown University and University of Michigan Law School. A success story even then, he was changing careers and trying his hand at talk radio.

My show went off the air in 1995, and I went back to opinion writing in pursuit of a national column. Elder stayed in radio. And after several ups and downs, he went on to become nationally syndicated in 2002.

Today, Elder is the Republican frontrunner vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in California’s Sept. 14 recall election. And, predictably, my friend is — as a Black conservative — being attacked and ridiculed by White liberals in the media. He’ll never get a fair shake.

Los Angeles Times columnist Nicholas Goldberg caricatured Elder as a “right-wing talk show host” and “the candidate I liked least.” Tops among Elder’s sins, wrote Goldberg, is that he has called climate change a myth. The scoundrel!

As to the question of whether Newsom deserves to be recalled for failing in his job as governor, the answer is a toss-up. A new CBS News/YouGov poll found that, among likely voters, 48 percent supported the recall and 52 percent were opposed.

I’m in the 48 percent. For me, it’s all about accountability. Newsom is not a union-protected teacher, or a civil servant, or a tenured professor. He serves at the pleasure of the citizenry. So he can be fired for doing a crappy job.

And while that might normally happen when Newsom stands for re-election in 2022, the California constitution gives voters the chance to recall him now.

Even if Newsom is removed, it’s not clear that Elder is the right person to replace him.

But from my vantage point, regardless of what California voters decide, Elder is — by his existence — already providing a valuable public service.

Through his candidacy, Californians — and interested parties around the country — are getting a glimpse at what makes Black conservatives tick. Owing to my friendship with Elder, and my own personal experience as a Latino centrist, I have some idea of what the ride has been like for my amigo.

I got a dose of liberal condescension in the late 1990s. While writing a political column for The Arizona Republic, I criticized a White liberal Democrat for not defending the civil rights of Latinos. An angry liberal reader informed me that, if I thought about it, I’d realize that all of my opportunities had come courtesy of the Democratic Party. I should be grateful, he said. He meant obedient.

I don’t do obedient well. I never have. That puts me at odds with the left, which wants total loyalty and complete control over the lives of people such as me.

Some Americans still can’t conceive of the idea that there are people of color who aren’t Democrats. But it was a Republican president (Abraham Lincoln) who freed the slaves, and another (Dwight Eisenhower) who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957. It was Republicans who led the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Meanwhile, Democrats — specifically Southern Dixiecrats — were the villainous defenders of segregation, lynchings and violence against Black Americans.

African Americans started voting for Democrats in the mid-1960s, and they never stopped. The Democratic Party owes that community an incalculable debt, one that it never gets around to repaying.

Even so, when a Black Republican arrives on the scene, the media’s take is that there is something wrong with the individual. How dare he think for himself?

Take it from me, there is nothing wrong with Elder. Sure, it bothers him that White liberals don’t give him enough credit for all that he achieved in his life through hard work, grit and good choices. But it would bother anyone.

Elder’s guiding philosophy is that — even as a Black man in America — there is no glory in being a victim, or even playing one on the radio. He believes that African Americans and other people of color would be well served if they left the liberal Democrat bosom and learned to speak their minds and follow their hearts.

That argument deserves a hearing. Thanks to Larry Elder, it’s getting one.

Contact Ruben Navarrette at ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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