The 2010 election cycle is notable for the Republican Party tidal wave that saw the Democrat Party lose control of the House of Representatives, and have diminished majority in the Senate. The Wave brought with it some diversity in the GOP’s Congressional delegation: there are now two African American Republicans in the House of Representatives.
The last time there were two African Americans Republicans in Congress was in 1995-96, when J. C. Watts represented the 4th District of Oklahoma and Gary Franks represented the 5th district of Connecticut.
This year’s breakthrough occurred thanks to the election of black Republicans in Florida and South Carolina. Allen West won his race for congress in southern Florida, while Tim Scott won his race in the Charleston and northern coastal area of South Carolina.
Allen West won in Florida’s 22nd District, which includes parts of Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and other portions of Broward County and Palm Beach County. These are north of Dade County, which contains the city of Miami.
West’s district is 75% white, 15% Hispanic, and just 5% black. He beat out two-term Democratic incumbent Ron Klein by a margin of 54.3% for himself to 45.7% for Klein. The two had faced each other in the 2008 election; in that election, Klein beat West by 55% to 45%.
West has something of a reputation for being controversial and combative. The 2010 Almanac of American Politics spoke of West in its discussion of the 2008 election:
…former Army Lieutenant Col. Allen West… retired after a 2003 incident in which he fired a gun near the head of an Iraqi detainee in an effort to make him reveal information about plans to attack U.S. troops. West’s explanation was that he had “sacrificed” his military career “for the lives of my men.”
Also during the 2008 campaign, West charged that a request for an interview from Al-Jezeera was actually part of a kidnapping plot.
The website TalkingPointsMemo.com said this about West:
Without a doubt, Allen West is going to become a new star all around — adored on the right, and a bogeyman of the left. First of all, West built his conservative political career on a particular event from his own military service — when he tortured an Iraqi policeman, and was proud of it. Since then, his attitudes on foreign policy haven’t changed much: “A nation goes to war against an ideology. We are against something that is a totalitarian, theocratic, political ideology, and it is called Islam.” The incident ended his time in uniform, and launched him on a track to Republican politics.
Also during this past campaign, West faced questions over his campaign’s ties to a criminal biker gang, The Outlaws. And at one of his events, a group of leather-clad men ejected a Democratic video tracker, as West got the crowd cheering. (It is unclear whether these same security men were Outlaws. In addition, West has pointed out that he could not possibly be an Outlaw himself — they do not accept African-Americans as members.)
It remains to be seen if West will this interesting once he gets on to the mundane tasks of representing his district in Congress, although being a black Republican will surely get West some media attention no matter what he does.
DID YOU KNOW: South Florida now has three African American representative in the Congress: West; Alcee Hastings, who represents Florida’s 23rd District; and newly-elected Fredrica Wilson, of Florida’s 17th District. The 17th District seek was previously held by Kendrick Meek. Meek ran for the U.S. Senate this year, and lost in a three-way race (that included outgoing Florida governor Charlie Christ) to Marco Rubio.
The other successful Republican African American candidate for U.S. Congress is Tim Scott. Scott will be representing the 1st District of South Carolina. This includes much of the Charleston metro area, although the heavily black parts are in the nearby 6th District. The 6th District is represented by James Clyburn, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Clyburn is the current House Majority (Democratic Party) Whip, which is one of the leadership positions among House Democrats; however, with Republicans taking over the House, his role may change. We'll see.
Fear is one of more common themes in political advertisements. Consider this political ad from 1949, which was seen in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area:
I think this speaks for itself. It almost makes the Willie Horton ads from the 1988 presidential campaign seem tame.
So… who’s the Republican bogeyman for 2010? This poster was recently (October 2010) seen in Shreveport, Louisiana:
(Hat tip to Dailykingfish.com for the image.)
NOTE: This picture at the top is from the excellent book, One Shot Harris: The Photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris. Harris was a photographer who worked for the Pittsburgh Courier, which was one of the nation’s top black newspapers.
The book contains photographs taken by Harris from the 1940s through the 1960s. Black Issues Book Review said this about Harris and the book:
One Shot Harris is pure soul. Though Harris photographed people living in poverty, most of his photos break away from the all-too-familiar images that oftentimes represent blacks during hard times. Instead, Harris focused on local folk–proud at work and at home–along with numerous celebrities to convey cultural pride. He took particular pleasure in highlighting The Hill District, the Pittsburgh neighborhood where many African Americans flocked seeking employment and entertainment.
“What I’d like for readers to take away from this book,” says writer Stanley Crouch, “is that Harris shows that these black communities, regardless of all stereotypes, were as civilized as any community in the entire western world.”
The book contains an essay by noted writer Stanley Crouch, and a biography of Harris by African American photography scholar Deborah Willis. Highly recommended.
In the previous blog entry, we mentioned that Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, expressed his desire to see more people of color represented within the Republican Party. Steele made this statement at a meeting of Florida Republicans. At the same meeting, Jim Greer, Florida’s party chairman, said that the party would focus on using technology to invigorate younger Republicans.
The folowing charts help to explain why Republicans might be concerned about ethnic and age diversity within their party. These are from the Young Voters in the 2008 Presidential Election Fact Sheet, which was prepared by CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
This first chart is not elegant aesthetically, but it makes a powerful point about the ethnic make-up of voters in the November elections. The chart shows the ethnicity of the electorate, broken-out by different age groups.
I know this is redundant, but let me go over the numbers on the above chart:
• For voters who are 60 years old or more, the ethnic composition of the vote was 85% white, 8% black, and 4% Hispanic
• For voters aged 45-59, the ethnicity was 80% white, 12% black, and 4% Hispanic
• For voters aged 30-44, the ethnicity was 72% white, 15% black, and 7% Hispanic
• For voters aged 18-29, the ethnicity was 64% white, 19% black, and 11% Hispanic
What we’re seeing is that the under-30 population has become more ethnically diverse than older age groups. Whites are a smaller portion of the electorate, while the percentage of African Americans and Hispanics is growing.
The problem for Republicans is that African Americans and Hispanics tend to vote for Democrats. The following chart shows the percentage of people who voted for Obama in the November elections, by ethnicity and age-group:
Mississippi, like several states in the deep South, is polarized politically on the basis of race. The majority of whites are Republican, and the overwhelming majority of blacks are Democratic.
The Democratic Party in Mississippi winds up being an integrated group, but it’s hardly a place of racial harmony. Bob Moser, in his book Blue Dixie, explains some of the history behind this:
Beginning in the 1970s, Mississippi Democrats had been split by race into two different parties-a fissure far deeper than in most of the South. For years, there were black and white cochairs statewide, and many counties had exclusively black or white executive committees. The divisions stemmed from the 1960s, when most whites who’d historically dominated the party refused to accept black Democrats into the fold-a refusal symbolized by the standoffs over delegations at the national conventions in ’64 and ’68.
The book goes on to note that over time, black and white Democrats have reconciled and unified throughout the state. But it seems there’s still a ways to go before tensions between the two groups are eliminated.
Case in point: the recent reality show drama of the Mississippi Democratic Party’s Executive Committee. Consider these events:
• In February, the Mississippi Democratic Party’s Executive Committee selected Sam Hall as its new Executive Director. Hall, a political consultant, formerly served the party as a communications director, and was also director of the Mississippi House Democrats’ Political Action Committee. As Executive Director, Hall would oversees the daily operations of the party and its staff at the Jackson, MS headquarters.
The vote for Hall was split along racial lines: whites on the Executive Committee voted for Hall, while the black vote was split between the current interim director Rosalind Rawls and Chris Smith. Both Rawls and Smith are black.
Willie Griffin, a black member of the Executive Committee, was publicly critical of Hall’s selection. Griffin said that Hall has a history of endorsing Republicans, including Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, Congressman Chip Pickering and others. Griffin added:
In the last eight to 10 years, our party has been pushing party loyalty… We don’t need a Republican speaking for us. We have competent people who can run our party.
• On Saturday, March 21, the Mississippi Democratic Party’s Executive Committee held a meeting. Jamie Franks, the Democratic Party Chair, was out of town As such, the vice chair-Barbara Blackmon-conducted the meeting. Note that, Franks is white, Blackmon is white.
At the meeting, Hall was ousted from the Executive Director position by a vote of the Executive Committee – or at least, by the members who were present at the meeting.
• Also at the March 21 meeting, Ike Brown, who is black, is voted onto the Executive Committee. Brown is an extremely controversial figure in Mississippi politics. As noted here:
Brown, the former chair of the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee, was removed from that position by a federal judge as a settlement of a federal voting rights lawsuit. Brown was accused of discriminating against white candidates and disenfranchising voters in Noxubee County with his actions. Noxubee County is majority Black. Brown was not re-elected to the state executive committee last year due to his legal troubles.
In a statement, Brown says that in his “zeal to support the Democratic Party and its candidates, I ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act… I look forward to the opportunity to redeem myself as a member of the committee. My future conduct will reflect that I respect the rights of all voters of every race to participate in the election process.”
The Mississippi Republican Party immediately made political hay out of Brown’s election. Brad White, chairman of the state GOP, said in a news release:
“I think it is outrageous that the leaders of the Mississippi Democratic Party would vote to put Ike Brown, who has been sanctioned by the Department of Justice for violating the voting rights of members of his own party, on their state executive committee which is charged with representing all Mississippi Democrats.”
This is from the AugustaChronicle.com, concerning the Georgia Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin.
AP, November 19, 2008: U.S. Senate candidate Jim Martin won’t be getting an endorsement from his former Democratic rival anytime soon.
DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones, who lost to Mr. Martin in a primary runoff in August, said he has no plans to back him, citing the former state lawmaker’s lack of support for Democratic President-elect Barack Obama during the primary season.
Mr. Martin voted for Democrat John Edwards in Georgia’s Feb. 5 presidential primary even though the North Carolina senator already had dropped out of the race.
Mr. Jones, who is black, hammered Mr. Martin repeatedly for that vote during their bitter campaign.
“Jim Martin did not want Barack Obama to be president,” Mr. Jones said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “He did not want to vote for an African-American or a woman.”
Mr. Jones said it’s hypocritical for Mr. Martin to now be “begging Barack Obama to come down here and help him” in his Dec. 2 runoff.
Mr. Martin is locked in a runoff with Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss after neither garnered 50 percent of the vote in the general election. He has asked Mr. Obama to campaign for him but has received no word on whether he will.
That kind of news can’t be helpful to Martin, who needs the black vote to turnout if he’s going to win the runoff. While Chambliss got just under 50% of the general election vote, Martin got around 47% (the same percentage that Barack Obama got in Georgia).
Black Leaders in the Colorado Legislature Make History
The Colorado legislature has only two black members. But now they are the two most powerful members of the 100-person body.
Colorado Democrats made legislative history by electing Rep. Terrance Carroll as speaker of the House and re-electing Peter Groff as Senate president.
It will be the first time in American history that the presiding officers of both chambers of a legislature will be African-Americans.
Two Omaha-area Black Women Elected to the Nebraska Legislature
For most of the past 30 years, Nebraska has had only one African-American serving in its single-house legislature. After the November election, it will have two, both female.
Incoming Nebraska State Senators Tanya Cook and Brenda Council
Here are my own election winners and losers, plus some “too early to tell” entries.
Barack Obama. Duh. This Hawaiian born and bred biracial intellectual with minimal experience has become perhaps the most unique and remarkable politician in American history. Now we’ll see if he can fix the mess that George Bush and congressional Republicans have made of this country.
Michelle Obama. The Right tried to demonize her into being an anti-white angry black woman who does terrorist fist bumps with her pals-with-terrorists husband. But like her husband, the more you saw of her, the better you felt about her.
I think she benefitted from not being a silent trophy wife; her speech at the Democratic National Convention and numerous media appearances showed her to be articulate, smart, and personable. I have no doubt that America is embracing her as the new First Lady.
Democrats in the Southeast: Who would have predicted even two years ago that a black Democratic presidential candidate would win in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida? And how about the fact that Virginia and North Carolina both sent Democrats to the US Senate this year?
The bottom line is, the southeast has become a new battleground for the parties, after being owned by Republicans the prior two elections. And they could have more success there in the future, if they play their cards right.
Democrats in the Industrial Midwest: The last two northern Democrats to be nominated as presidential candidates were both from Massachusetts. They both lost. This year a candidate from the Midwest gave it a try, and found success.
Observers are saying that the proximity of red states like Iowa and Indiana to Obama’s “home” state of Illinois was a factor in his victories there. I bet that a lot of Democrats from the Midwest are looking at themselves in the mirror and thinking, maybe I’m next.
At least, Obama’s victory disturbs the conventional wisdom that only a southern Democrat has a chance of winning a presidential election.
Organized Labor: Make no mistake, labor put a lot of money and manpower into this election. The Democrats’ success in Pennsylvania and other Great Lakes states is owed in part to their efforts.
Now we’ll see what organized labor wants, and how much they can get from Obama and the Congress. A bail-out for the auto industry seems first on the list.
Internet Based Campaigning: The Obama campaign has become a legend in its own time thanks to its masterful use of the Internet to organize, communicate, and raise money. By the next presidential cycle, everybody will be doing it-or at least, they’ll try.
Cornell Belcher and Leah Daughtry: You probably don’t know these two black technocrats who work for the Democratic Party, but you should.
Cornell Belcher is the first African American to serve as polling director for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Belcher was also a pollster for the Obama campaign. He had the insight that the Democrats could find enough pockets of strength that even a black man could win the presidency. And he was right. (Although he would be the first to say that the toxic environment for Republicans was a huge key to this election.)