ShareThis Page

A conservative voice that resonates

| Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

After November 2012, the Republican National Committee did a postmortem. It was clear that the GOP needed to be more welcoming to younger voters, more diverse in its ranks and more effective in articulating conservative principles to groups disaffected with the Democrats but unwilling to go Republican.

Unfortunately, the top of the ticket this year (Donald Trump) fails in all those objectives. And yet, in an election year that has become a nightmare for conservatives, they have a choice here in Western Pennsylvania, smack in the middle of Pittsburgh.

Lenny McAllister is known to many in this area from his face and voice on PCNC and KDKA. Some might recall the 44-year-old as the first black quarterback at Central Catholic High School, following Dan Marino and Marc Bulger, before going on to play baseball at Davidson College and spreading his wings in the Southeast and Chicago.

This genuine change agent (to borrow a term from the Obama/progressive playbook) is looking to enact real change, but not for the Democrats. McAllister is hoping to change the image, tone and outlook of the Republican Party, starting in our backyard, which would go a long way toward the RNC's 2012 “autopsy” goals. He is challenging Rep. Mike Doyle in Pennsylvania's 14th Congressional District, a seat unchanged since the end of the Cold War.

It isn't hype to say McAllister is a rising star in the conservative movement. CPAC jumped to get him on the big stage in February, and the annual Pennsylvania Leadership Conference did the same in April. They wanted him in Cleveland, too.

RNC organizers in Cleveland craved McAllister's message of “conservatism with inclusion and diversity,” especially given Trump's image.

McAllister is his own man. He became a single dad at 21, dropping out of college. He became a janitor at Kmart, a deli clerk at Giant Eagle and a data processor at Manpower to provide for his daughter before becoming a self-taught computer programmer and getting a full-time job at Mellon Bank. He married a woman equally resilient, a survivor of “gun violence” (a polite way to put it) and domestic abuse. He survived a horrific home invasion 15 years ago while returning to Davidson to finish his degree. And he became a caretaker when his father was shot and hospitalized for a year.

Again, he's his own man. But the Trump people in Cleveland wanted a parade of servile surrogates to prostrate themselves before the casino mogul. McAllister was unwilling.

So, McAllister is sticking to Pittsburgh and his principles.

The pro-life Catholic is reaching beyond typical Republican constituencies. He describes himself as an “urban-focused Republican” who's “capable of building relationships” on the streets as well as in affluent suburbs. He attended Shady Side Academy as a teen and he has served as a youth minister to incarcerated males. He thinks the conservative vision works for both sides. It's a matter of communication.

“Most urban Americans feel that liberal policies and a lot of the conservative tone aren't working for them,” McAllister told me, describing himself as “a bridge-builder, not a bomb-thrower.”

The Penn Hills native says “diversity does not mean being less conservative.” In a Reaganesque style, he's looking to be a winsome and persuasive conservative capable of winning independent and center-left voters.

Will it work in November against Mike Doyle? We'll see. But in Lenny McAllister, conservatives have a choice, not an echo.

Paul Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.