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New Republican group wants to register more voters to keep Texas red

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — With national Democrats looking to make Texas a battleground, a new Republican group is launching to register hundreds of thousands of new voters here and convince them to help keep the state red in 2020. The group, a super PAC named Engage Texas, is the brainchild of some of the state’s biggest GOP donors, and it is led by a former top staffer at the Republican National Committee. It comes as Texas Republicans look to gain ground in an area where their Democratic counterparts have dominated in recent years: signing up new voters.

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By Texas Tribune

With national Democrats looking to make Texas a battleground, a new Republican group is launching to register hundreds of thousands of new voters here and convince them to help keep the state red in 2020.

The group, a super PAC named Engage Texas, is the brainchild of some of the state’s biggest GOP donors, and it is led by a former top staffer at the Republican National Committee. It comes as Texas Republicans look to gain ground in an area where their Democratic counterparts have dominated in recent years: signing up new voters.

“Educated voters are motivated voters, and Engage Texas is focused on both registering voters and giving them the information they need to get involved and vote for principled Texas conservatives to lead our state,” Mano DeAyala, a Houston lawyer who chairs the Engage Texas board, said in a statement.

The creation of Engage Texas follows an election cycle in which U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, narrowly won re-election as Democrats picked up two U.S. House seats, two in the state Senate and 12 in the Texas House. For Republicans, the challenges are only growing next year in Texas, with national Democrats targeting U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, half a dozen U.S. House seats and the Texas House, where Democrats are nine seats away from the majority.

As a super PAC, Engage Texas can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as it does not coordinate with campaigns. The group, which registered with the Federal Election Commission in April, is not required to reveal its donors until July 15.

But its funding is expected to be substantial, and in addition to DeAyala, its board members include Richard Weekley, the Houston businessman who co-founded and helps lead Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the influential tort reform organization. Other board members are Trey Strake, vice chairman of the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield in Houston, and Randall Woodruff, executive director of the Strake Foundation.

Engage Texas’ executive director is Chris Young, who served as the RNC’s national field director for the 2016 cycle. More recently, he ran a political nonprofit in Nevada with a similar mission.

In focusing on voter registration, the group believes it is filling a GOP void as Democrats have honed in on signing up new voters across the state in recent years. There are roughly 4.1 million unregistered voters in Texas, according to the secretary of state’s office, with hundreds of thousands of people moving here every year.

In addition to registering voters, Engage Texas will focus on turning them out for the 2020 election. The group says it will carry out the two-pronged strategy with “grassroots, direct mail and digital outreach.”

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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With conflicting budget estimates, will Texas teachers get the pay raises they anticipated?

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — When state lawmakers passed their landmark $11.6 billion school finance law in late May, school employees were eager to see how mandatory raises would affect their paychecks. A month later, they’re scratching their heads, struggling to decipher complicated changes and conflicting financial estimates that might not net teachers as much money as they expected.

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Photo by: Nappy | Pexels.com

By Defender News Service

When state lawmakers passed their landmark $11.6 billion school finance law in late May, school employees were eager to see how mandatory raises would affect their paychecks.

A month later, they’re scratching their heads, struggling to decipher complicated changes and conflicting financial estimates that might not net teachers as much money as they expected.

Before lawmakers voted nearly unanimously to approve House Bill 3, which drastically overhauled Texas’ outdated school funding system, they received estimates from the state on how much additional money each of their school districts would likely receive over the next two years. But the estimates came with a warning: They could change significantly once the calculations were performed using local data.

Ahead of the upcoming school year, districts are now redoing those calculations themselves — and some are coming up short. That could pose a problem for teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians, since under HB 3, school districts are supposed to use a portion of the new money on those employees’ raises and benefits. (School boards must approve their budgets by either a June 30 or an Aug. 31 deadline.)

Georgetown ISD, for example, is projecting $5.9 million in new money in the upcoming school year, much less than the $10.3 million state estimate. And it will shell out about $9 million in recapture payments, which the state takes from wealthier districts to subsidize poorer ones — not the $3.5 million the state estimated in May.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, a large suburban district in the Houston area, should’ve expected $30 million more in the upcoming school year, according to the state estimates. But school board members approved a budget in late June that projected just $14 million more, according to Karen Smith, the district’s chief financial officer.

To remain competitive as employers, both districts are going beyond the state’s requirement to use 30% of the new money to increase salaries and benefits. Georgetown ISD is including $3,000 raises for teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses with more than five years of experience. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD approved a budget millions of dollars in the red that includes $25.4 million in raises for classroom teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses and $10.8 million in raises for all other employees.

Teacher pay raises quickly became a bipartisan rallying cry during the 2019 legislative session that finished up in May. But instead of the statewide $5,000 raise many teachers advocated for from the get-go, lawmakers approved a set of guidelines for salary bumps that would end up leaving the dollar amounts largely up to district leaders.

There is not yet an official statewide summary on what compensation packages look like across school districts, but eventually districts will be required to report that information to the Legislature. Meanwhile, the state has been providing guidance on how to interpret the new law through videos and PowerPoint presentations.

Without an across-the-board pay raise mandate from the state, teachers and other school employees have been looking left and right at neighboring school districts to judge how they’re going to fare. Some report having heard nothing from their school districts so far this summer, as they anxiously monitor the news from across the state.

Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams found that the state’s calculation for how much more his tiny school district would receive was pretty accurate: just under $600,000. But school districts in the vicinity, which include large, urban Dallas ISD, are getting millions more, meaning they’ll be required to offer bigger raises.

To stay competitive, Sunnyvale ISD’s school board approved larger pay raises than required by law, ranging from $1,800 for beginning teachers to $2,700 for the most experienced. “We have been blessed to be able to attract and retain great teachers,” Williams said. “We just want to make sure we are able to continue.”

In some school districts, local teachers’ unions and associations are butting heads with administrators as they advocate for higher raises and larger employer contributions to health insurance. After adopting a budget with 5% raises, Laredo ISD’s officials told frustrated teachers they are waiting for more guidance from the state before they consider raising salaries further.

In Houston ISD, the teachers union successfully threatened a no-confidence vote against the superintendent if trustees didn’t pass a budget with pay raises by later this month, arguing the delay would make them less competitive for hiring. After a contentious meeting, the board ultimately approved a deficit budget containing raises of 3.5% to 8%, depending on school employees’ experience levels. The budget also increased the minimum wage for school employees by $2 an hour.

For third grade writing teacher Huyenchau Vu, who watched the Legislature’s initial proposal for $5,000 raises dissolve, a 3.5% raise means a boost of less than $2,000 a year and less than $100 per paycheck. “It goes back into paying for everything, not necessarily into a savings account,” said Vu, who just finished teaching summer school at Houston ISD and will start her third year teaching in August.

She and her colleagues have been taking notes about the higher starting salaries and raises for Houston-area districts such as Aldine ISD and Alief ISD, but not necessarily because they’re trying to jump ship. While Vu would appreciate more money, she is also worried about the sustainability of the Legislature’s funding increase and is glad Houston ISD appears to be more “realistic” in its budgeting decisions than its neighbors.

“They’re paying their teachers a lot more knowing it’s just over the next two years that we’re receiving money from the state of Texas to put into these teacher salaries,” she said. “After that, no one’s sure what’s going to happen.”

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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Allen West says he’s exploring a run for Texas GOP chair

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — Allen West, the former Florida congressman who now lives in Texas, announced Wednesday evening that he is exploring a run for Texas GOP chair, setting up a potential challenge to the party’s current leader, James Dickey.

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Allen West (Photo by: Gage Skidmore | Wiki Commons)

By Defender News Service

Allen West, the former Florida congressman who now lives in Texas, announced Wednesday evening that he is exploring a run for Texas GOP chair, setting up a potential challenge to the party’s current leader, James Dickey.

“As I look ahead as to how I can continue my service to this constitutional republic and the great state of Texas, my family and I … have decided to explore the opportunity to be the next chairman of the Republican Party of Texas,” West said in a live YouTube broadcast.

Delegates will elect the next chair of the Republican Party of Texas at its 2020 convention, which is scheduled for May 14-16 in Houston. Dickey first won the job in 2017 after the previous chair resigned, and he was reelected a year later — both were contentious races.

After West’s announcement, Dickey issued a statement making clear he is running for re-election next year — and warning against intra-party conflict during a critical cycle for Texas Republicans.

“We are on an incredible path and we must not waver,” Dickey said. “Division in Texas amongst our base is not what we need to defeat what will be next year the greatest Democrat onslaught that we have seen in decades.”

West’s announcement was closely watched in the Texas political world. He had said in advance that he would announce whether he was running for one of three offices: the 32nd Congressional District, U.S. Senate or state party chair.

He acknowledged that he may be letting down some supporters by not seeking a return to Capitol Hill. “But if the soul of Texas is lost, then what gain do I have in that personal accomplishment or achievement?” West asked.

His potential candidacy for the 32nd District drew particular attention. The incumbent — freshman U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas — flipped the seat last year, and Democrats were salivating at the prospect of facing a conservative firebrand like West in a battleground district.

West’s re-emergence on the political stage still gives fodder to Texas Democrats, and the state party reacted to his potential chairmanship bid by highlighting the GOP’s array of down-ballot losses last year.

“With that record of mounting failure, it’s no surprise that right-wing conspiracy theorist and ousted Florida Congressman Allen West would see these results and decide to run for Texas’ Trump Republican Party Chair,” the Texas Democratic Party’s executive director, Manny Garcia, said in a statement.

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West represented Florida’s 22nd District from 2011-13. After redistricting, West chose to run in a different district in 2012 and lost to Democrat Patrick Murphy in a pricy, high-profile battle.

West moved to North Texas in 2014 after being named CEO of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis. The next year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed West to a spot on the state’s Sunset Commission, which periodically reviews the operation and efficiency of state agencies.

West has remained active in conservative circles, regularly appearing as a pundit on Fox News and joining the Texas Public Policy Foundation last year to lead a new initiative there. TPPF announced Monday that West had left the job.

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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Houston’s Tourism and Arts industries receive a financial boost

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — Houston First Corporation and Airbnb, the online home sharing platform, have announced a breakthrough agreement in which Houston’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) will be collected from Airbnb customers which started July 1. The 7 percent tax on Airbnb rentals will flow to Houston First, a government corporation that promotes and markets Houston’s travel, tourism and arts communities around the world and operates the city’s finest convention, arts and entertainment venues. 

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Houston, Texas (Photo by: Defender News Network)

By Defender News Service

Houston First Corporation and Airbnb, the online home sharing platform, have announced a breakthrough agreement in which Houston’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) will be collected from Airbnb customers which started July 1.

The 7 percent tax on Airbnb rentals will flow to Houston First, a government corporation that promotes and markets Houston’s travel, tourism and arts communities around the world and operates the city’s finest convention, arts and entertainment venues.

Houston becomes the largest Texas city to reach an agreement with Airbnb for collection of the HOT, required by state law to be used to boost the city’s travel and tourism industries and local art (Tax Code 351).  HOT may be used only to directly promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry. Also by state law, 19.3 cents of every dollar collected goes to city arts programs. Houston has the highest percentage in Texas of HOT funding dedicated to the arts.

HOT collections by Airbnb are expected to generate $3 million a year in Houston.

“Airbnb’s agreement to collect a tax that had already had been levied on hotel and motel guests will boost Houston First’s efforts to further increase the number of visits to Houston, which drew a record-high 22.3 million people in 2018,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “In turn, that will mean more dollars flowing into the Houston economy, creating even more jobs and benefitting Airbnb’s business and its affiliated local hosts. The additional funding for Houston’s thriving arts scene is icing on the cake and will add to the dynamic forces that are making Houston a more attractive place to enjoy for residents and visitors alike.”

Airbnb has partnered with over 400 local governments throughout the U.S. to collect and remit taxes, making it easy for hosts to pay their fair share while contributing new revenue for local governments. The company already collects the Texas State Hotel Occupancy Tax on behalf of all hosts (including in Houston) under an agreement with the Texas Comptroller’s Office. Airbnb delivered $15.3 million in tax revenue to the state in the first year of the agreement, nearly doubling the initial expectations.

“This additional revenue will further support Houston First’s mission to promote our city as a premier global destination and build partnerships to improve the quality of life of Houstonians,” said Brenda Bazan, president & CEO of Houston First. “We appreciate the role played by Airbnb and local Houstonian hosts in complementing our booming hotel industry and supporting tourism growth.”

“We believe this partnership will unlock significant new revenue for Houston moving forward, as it has for the state,” said Laura Spanjian, senior public policy director for Airbnb. “Our Houston hosts have stepped up time and time again, from supporting neighbors during Hurricane Harvey to generating economic activity in underserved communities, and now their efforts will benefit the Houston tourism and art communities as well.”

“This is a great day for Houston’s art community, as we count on this revenue to grow our vibrant arts landscape.  We know that arts and culture fuel tourism for Houston,” John Abodeely, CEO Houston Arts Alliance. “We hope other short-term rental platforms will follow Airbnb’s good-citizen example.”

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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#NNPA BlackPress

Former NNPA Chairs Talk Yesterday, Today and the Future

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Whether it’s taking a stand for the Double V campaign during World War II; marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement; or fighting to have a voice in the White House in more recent times, NNPA’s board chairpersons’ responsibilities have historically gone far beyond any standard business definitions.

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Former Chairpersons of the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Board of Directors (left to right): “Sonny” Messiah Jiles, the CEO of the Houston Defender Media Group; Danny Bakewell, Sr., publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel; Cloves Campbell, publisher of the Arizona Informant; and Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer.
Former Chairpersons of the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Board of Directors (left to right): “Sonny” Messiah Jiles, the CEO of the Houston Defender Media Group; Danny Bakewell, Sr., publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel; Cloves Campbell, publisher of the Arizona Informant; and Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer.

Part One in a series, as the NNPA prepares to Celebrate 80Years as the Voice of Black America

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The role of chairman of the board in any organization comes with responsibilities that require for the broadest of shoulders.

According to a definition found at bizfluent, a board’s chairperson is the person who serves as the senior representative of the shareholders and is responsible for upholding their interests.

However, whether it was taking a stand for the Double V campaign during World War II; marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement; or fighting to have a voice in the White House in more recent times, NNPA’s board chairpersons’ responsibilities have historically gone far beyond any standard business definitions.

“As NNPA chair, it is important to have integrity, build consensus, listen to different points of view, be a communicator, take the initiative, and possess the foresight to think where the puck will be –not where it is now — and act accordingly,” said Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah Jiles, the CEO of the Houston Defender Media Group and a former NNPA chair.

“The experience of being a NNPA chair was both rewarding and trying because I took office when the organization was transitioning from a combined operation into two independent organizations, [the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation]” Jiles said.

Jiles, who was elected chair in mid-2003 and served through mid-2005, said the high points of her tenure included securing the first $4.1 million buy from Home Depot for NNPA members; cleaning up and aligning the organization’s operational systems in accordance with Sarbanes Oxley; and establishing convention sponsorship packages covering two-three year periods, that ensured revenue continuity.

“The biggest challenge of the NNPA chair is to generate revenue for both small- and large-market newspapers, create products and services that benefit the membership’s bottom line and building a consensus when there are so many personal or hidden agendas,” Jiles said.

Danny Bakewell, Sr., the publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel who chaired the NNPA from 2009 to 2011, said it was an honor to serve his fellow publishers and lead the organization through various changes in the media landscape.

“My publishers knew of my activism and [at the time I was elected], it was a good time in my life, and I decided to give it I shot,” Bakewell said.

“When I came in, there was basically no infrastructure, so I’ve got to be chairman and CEO and I’ve got to make decisions to make this thing work,” he said.

Bakewell said he created a plan on how to create partnerships in which the goal was to get five partners that would agree to three- or five-year commitments that would bring in significant revenue for the NNPA.

“It meant that we weren’t begging because we knew we had money coming in and I established a policy that we’d go out and raise money for every event knowing that we already had money,” Bakewell said.

“The real glue that made my administration successful was getting full-page ads at least once a quarter for my publishers and organizations like General Motors really gave us solid commitments and we still have them today,” he said.

As chair, Bakewell said one should never lose sight of the mission of the Black Press of America, which is to speak for the voiceless and champion the powerless.

“We put together a report when I was the chair that showed we were talking to 19.5 million black people every week, that’s powerful,” Bakewell said.

He said there were many who wanted him to remain as chair, but he leaned on an important motto learned long ago: “Good leadership knows when to come, it knows what to do and it knows when to go,” said Bakewell, who in 2010 enjoyed a historic visit to the White House where he met with then-presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett to make sure – among other things – that the NNPA was in a position to cover President Barack Obama’s administration.

Following Bakewell, Arizona Informant publisher Cloves Campbell won election as NNPA chair.

Campbell, who led the organization with a strategy that included collaborating with other organizations, forming new partnerships and inviting a new generation of readers into the Black Press, served two terms concluding in 2015.

“It was an honor to serve the NNPA, which has such a rich history and it represents an important part of black history,” Campbell said.

When Campbell began, he said the NNPA had virtually no digital presence, but he’s noticed most recently the evolution of the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com where hundreds of thousands of unique visitors come for information daily.

“Now it’s at a level where the world knows about it,” Campbell said.

As chair, Campbell said an important aspect of his duties were to work closely with the then newly-hired NNPA president and CEO, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

“It’s important because the president is the spokesperson for your organization. I remember our first president, Bill Thompson, was a different type of person, but we were real fortunate to be able to select an excellent leader in Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. Dr. Chavis, with a civil rights background, has what we were looking for in that premiere position,” Campbell said.

“Chavis is one who commands an audience and not only commands the respect from the community in the United States, but worldwide,” he said.

Washington Informer publisher, Denise Rolark Barnes, who served as NNPA chair from 2015 to 2017, echoed Campbell’s comments on the importance of the chair and president working in harmony for the good of the organization.

“As your board, we are a legal entity, and to me, we should have a chairman of the board who shares the same vision as the leader of the organization and the person that we’ve hired to lead and to be the spokesperson for the organization,” Rolark Barnes said.

“As long as you are in lockstep, there’s so much more you can accomplish for the organization,” she said.

Rolark Barnes recalled a time when the NNPA didn’t have the resources to operate in the manner it currently does, but she said the organization always had an executive director or a president – a set-up that’s required under law for any nonprofit.

“When you have someone in that position with the title of president who’s respected, who has an ability to connect with organizations, that’s important because we on the board cannot do that… we have to maintain our legal status,” Rolark Barnes said.

During her tenure, Rolark Barnes said she understood that there would be times when the board would dictate what the chair would do, but it’s the president who leads based on what the board has instructed.

“Members have to have leadership that works hard on their behalf and works together. You have to listen to your membership and strive to work together because that’s what makes for a stronger organization,” she said.

Two years after her tenure, Rolark Barnes remains very much involved on the board.

She said she decided to run for chair after attending board meetings, taking copious notes and realizing that she could help the organization.

“It became crystal clear to me what I could do to lead the organization beyond stagnation into a new era of solvency, productivity, and resiliency,” Rolark Barnes said.

“I was incredibly proud to serve alongside a progressive-thinking executive committee and a board that supported, and sometimes challenged, our decisions,” she said.

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Willie D of the Geto Boys is also running for Houston City Council

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — The Geto Boys’ Willie D is moving into politics in his hometown of Houston. He made the announcement last week, about three weeks after his Geto Boys group member Scarface said he was doing the same thing. Willie also asked for donations in his post.

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By Defender News Service

The Geto Boys’ Willie D is moving into politics in his hometown of Houston.

He made the announcement last week, about three weeks after his Geto Boys group member Scarface said he was doing the same thing. Willie also asked for donations in his post.

“What’s better than one Geto Boy running for City Council?” asked Willie on Instagram. “It’s on family! This is the next step in my evolution to serve and I need your help!”

The 52-year-old will be running for city council in District B, and Scarface will be running for District D in Houston.

In the comment section of Willie’s post, the “My Block” rapper sent his group member encouraging words and told him that he’s making the right decision.

“Congrats Will!! What better way to make change in our community From it, of it and love it!!” he wrote.

Willie D and Scarface aren’t the first two rappers to go into politics.

In 2010 Chicago rapper Rhymefest ran for Alderman of the 20th ward in his Windy City hometown but lost to incumbent candidate Willie Cochran by a slim margin.

In that same year, Wyclef Jean announced that he was running to be the president of Haiti where he was born, but his application was rejected because he never lived in the country for at least five years.

And in 2018 Dupre “Doitall” Kelly, from the ’90s rap group Lords of the Underground, ran for a city council seat in his hometown of Newark, N.J., although he didn’t win.

After Willie D made his surprising announcement, people seemed pretty excited about it.

“You got my vote,” one person wrote on Instagram.

“You were Born and raised there,” wrote another. “After all Who’s not familiar with the geto boys! You know the ppl the ppl know you. I say good for you and I’m praying that you have a very successful campaign.”

Both rapper’s announcement about their campaigns come shortly after Bushwick Bill, the third member of the Geto Boys, passed away from pancreatic cancer on June 9 at age 52.

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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Michelle Obama discusses the importance of equality in relationships

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — Michelle Obama didn’t hold anything back during a candid sit down with Gayle King over the weekend at Essence Fest. Besides discussing healthy living and her memoir Becoming, the former FLOTUS also spoke about looking forward to having a house without teenagers soon.

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Michelle Obama
By Defender News Service

Michelle Obama didn’t hold anything back during a candid sit down with Gayle King over the weekend at Essence Fest. Besides discussing healthy living and her memoir Becoming, the former FLOTUS also spoke about looking forward to having a house without teenagers soon.

“Barack’s like ‘You seem so much less  stressed,’ and I’m like, duh! Not only were we parenting teenagers, but every Saturday night you had to worry about whether your kid is gonna end up on Page Six,” Obama told King. “Now we’re rediscovering each other. I’m looking over and going ‘Hey…you, where have you been for 21 years?!’”

King even asked the Chitown native about her take on having great sex at every age, which she said she isn’t opposed to at all.

“Yes. I support that principle,” she laughed. “I mean, come on Gayle! What I’m ‘sposed to say to that? ‘No, I take issue with that?’ Yes, Gayle, the answer is yes!”

Mrs. Obama also gave invaluable advice on how to find the right partner. She said the most important factor in sustaining a healthy relationship is equality.

“Equality is not just measured in terms of the wallet. Equality is in terms of the value that they carry. Honesty is the beginning, the middle, and the end. I wouldn’t want to be bothered with someone I couldn’t trust on a day-to-day basis. It’s not just about how much money they make or title. Someone could have the right salary, but the wrong heart.”

Not only did drop some gems, she looked stunning! She rocked her natural curls and slayed in a navy blue, belted, shimmery jumpsuit.

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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