TheGrio’s 100: Vernon Parker, changing GOP politics in the Southwest

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If Vernon Parker succeeds in his quest for Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, he’d be the first African-American to represent a state that once rejected a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But breaking barriers and defying stereotypes is nothing new for Parker, 51, a Republican who is the first African-American mayor of affluent Paradise Valley. Indeed, he’s been quoted as saying that public servants can be selected, “based on their credentials and not on the color of their skin.”

Parker’s own credentials are noteworthy. Born in Houston and raised on the West Coast, he attended California State University at Long Beach, earning a bachelor’s in finance. From there, Parker went on to Georgetown University Law Center, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Georgetown American Criminal Law Review.

After graduating, Parker launched his career as a financial analyst, and has amassed a record of achievement in government, the private sector, and volunteerism.

He was nominated by former President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the Senate, as the Department of Agriculture’s first-ever assistant secretary for civil rights.
Parker also served in Washington as general counsel of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and in the White House as special assistant to then-President George H. W. Bush.

Prior to becoming Mayor in June 2008 (Parker was elected to the town council and his peers subsequently voted him to lead) he founded the VBP Group, a company specializing in human resource management and public relations. The VBP Group gained notoriety when it was awarded and subsequently removed from a prominent government contract under highly politicized fraud allegations.

Parker has served on various boards, including the Salvation Army National Advisory Board; the Christian Family Care Agency, a small Arizona adoption agency; and the Starshine Academy, an Arizona charter school, serving at-risk children in-state and in Sudan.

His varied background and political aspirations, including a long-considered run for governor, has political observers watching him closely. Indeed, at least one pundit has asked if he is the GOP’s answer to President Barack Obama.