COMPTON — Eight years ago, Emily Hart-Holifield was named a woman of the year at the annual Roosevelt dinner held by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.
This year she founded Compton Hub City Area Republican Women Federated, the first GOP women's organization in the city's 101-year history.
This is not to say that women in Compton are political wallflowers. Hart-Holifield is president of the Compton College Board of Trustees, and a majority of City Council members are women.
Republicans, though, are few and far between in Hub City, as Compton likes to call itself.
Ninety percent of the city's approximately 40,000 registered voters are Democrats. State Democratic party officials say Compton is the most Democratic (with a big D) city in the state, which probably explains why the new GOP club has only 13 members, including Hart-Holifield, her 19-year-old daughter, Lynnella Hart, and two of Lynnella's friends.
There are some Republicans in Compton, Hart-Holifield said, but "they have played a low profile."
They may not have had much choice. There are fewer than 1,600 Republicans and more than 36,000 Democrats, meaning Republicans are outnumbered about 23 to 1.
"Everybody's a Democrat. You know why?" Hart-Holifield asked. "Because they never got an invitation to be something else."
So Hart-Holifield is doing some inviting, trying to put a dent--albeit a small one--in the lopsided odds. She wants to recruit 50 to 60 members for the GOP club by Christmas and will ask Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, who is running for governor, to speak at the group's installation dinner in December.
"We will be supporting Pete Wilson 1,000%," she said. "We're going to have a little bit of spice going on here in Compton."
When Democratic County Chairman Jim Clarke learned that the GOP was organizing in his territory, he vowed to do the same in theirs.
"I'm going to open a Democratic club in San Marino," he declared. "I'll put fear into the hearts of Republicans there. I'll form an Alan Cranston Democratic club."
The last time the Democratic senator ran for reelection, he got 20% of the vote in San Marino.
Recruiting 50 to 60 Republicans in Compton seems like an overly ambitious goal for Hart-Holifield. Her new party, after all, has an abiding interest in such things as capital gains and private enterprise, while in Compton a quarter of the residents are on public assistance.
But the image that all Republicans are well-to-do is false, says Hart-Holifield, who claims she was misled for years on the topic by Democrats.
"The people in the Republican Party are not all wealthy people," she said.
The main reason she joined the GOP two years ago and started the women's club in June, she said, is "because I feel that we need to do more things for middle-income people anyway. . . . I'm also for raising the consciousness of those who are able-bodied and able to go out and get a job."
A special education teacher in the Compton schools, the 48-year-old, Louisiana-born Hart-Holifield says she pulled herself up by the bootstraps.
"I've had my share of poorness. We were sharecroppers. We were working on the fourth," she said, meaning the landowner got the first three bales of cotton her family picked every day.
'They're Working Women'
Mary Benz of Rancho Palos Verdes, president of the county GOP federation, said her organization is proud to have the Compton women as members. "They're all working women and that's the kind of women we'd like to have in our organization. Most of the women (who now belong) do stay home."
The work ethic, in fact, appears to be an important theme for Hart-Holifield and her club members.
"I just feel that we need to give our young people more to work for," said Margaret Moore, another founding member. "And I seem to see more (of an emphasis in) the Republican Party (on making) us get up and do more."
Moore, a community liaison for the Compton Unified School District, is running for a seat on the district's board.
She says that social welfare programs have undermined the value of work in the minds of young people. A Democrat until six months ago, Moore, 55, says that she always assumed that the Democrats' loyalty to social welfare programs helped black people. "But in the long run, they aren't helping us. You become crippled with it," she said.
Not Looking for a Handout
Velta Jones, another club member and also an educator, said: "We were under the assumption that the Democratic Party was the provider of the people, but I don't need anybody to give me anything on a platter.
"I'm a worker. I've always been." Jones is director of extension programs, continuing education and community services at Compton College.
Compton's Democratic officeholders say they don't feel threatened by the upstart Republican organization.
"I think the black community should have two parties," said Democratic Assemblyman Willard Murray (D-Paramount). "I encourage blacks to be involved in the Republican Party because I don't think they have the voice or the degree of influence they should have."
Compton Councilman Maxcy Filer said the same, but added that he believes the Democratic Party is a better vehicle for satisfying black aspirations.
As for Democratic defections to the GOP ranks, Murray said that sort of thing happens all the time in both camps. After all, he pointed out, Ronald Reagan used to be a Democrat.