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.
One of the supposed appeals of having Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee was that he would be a beacon of diversity to minorities interested in joining the Republican Party.
OK, here’s the question. How many African Americans have decided to become Republicans because of this guy?
Michael Steele, Republican National Committee
Seriously. Do you know any blacks who’ve been inspired to become a Republican due to the Steele’s chairmanship of the Republican Party?
Any politician in Washington (in America?) has one of several competing goals when making a political decision:
• do what’s good for the country
• do what’s good for local constituencies
• do what’s good for his political party
• do what’s necessary to get elected
This often presents a politican with a problem. Because what’s good for the country is not necessarily what’s good for his constituents, which is not necessarily good for his political party, which is not necessarily good for getting elected.
Which brings us to the case of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. Specter shook up Washington by announcing he was switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic party.
Specter is a moderate/conservative politician who, he believes, is not conservative enough to win the Republican Senatorial primary next year. But he does believe that he’ll win in the general election, when voters of all (or no) parties get to cast a ballot.
What got Specter into such trouble with Republicans in his state? Specter voted for the multi-billion dollar 2009 stimulus package. He felt the stimulus was good for the country. But Republicans in Congress voted overwhelmingly against the stimulus, and Specter was seen as a traitor for not joining with them.
So we see the conundrum of modern politics. People say they want independent lawmakers who will put partisanship aside, and just do the right thing. But the fact is, when principle is voted over party, there is often a political price to pay. Specter’s price was becoming a political outcast among the membrs of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.
So now Specter is a member of the Democratic Party. And already questioned are being asked about his loyalty to that Party.
So it seems like Specter is damned if he do, and damned if he don’t. And that pretty much describes the current state of American politics: just plain damned.
This is sorta silly season in politics. - Barack Obama, during the 2008 Presidential campaign.
When is it NOT silly season in Washington? Our politics have become so shallow, so stuck on things that don’t matter, that they border on being irrelevant.
That’s true for many Washington politicians in general, and Republican politicians in particular.
Case in point: Republican Newt Gingrich, who was once Speaker of the House and a respected deep thinker. It seems he’s gone off the shallow end. For Gingrich, no attack on Obama is too trivial or trifling.
A couple of weeks ago, in the wake of the Somali pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama, Gingrich said it was time for Obama to show the world he was tough on piracy. As Gingrich noted on the ABC show This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
Look, this is the administration [Obama's] which keeps trying to find some kind of magical solution that doesn’t involve effort, and doesn’t involve risk, and doesn’t involve making hard decisions….. we ought to simply, as a civilized world, say we are gonna stop the pirates in the region. Period. It’s very good for the rest of the world to see that there’s someplace in the planet where people are willing to draw a line and say certain things won’t be tolerated.
Gingrich went on to say that piracy was a global threat along the lines of Iran, North Korea, and Mexico, and represented a test of the President’s resolve. That led Stephanopoulos to ask conservative commentator George Will whether the pirates were in fact a test for President Obama. Will responded
Good Heavens, no. The Speaker’s very litany of nuisances around the world — some rising considerably above nuisance — indicates just how down on the chain of concerns this should be. Again…. this is well below what mugging was in New York City, because as Paul [Krugamn] said the sea’s really quite safe.
Why did Gingrich elevate the piracy incident to the top of the list of foreign policy concerns? Because in the event that the pirate incident didn’t work out well-say, with the unfortunate death of Maersk Alabama captain Richard Phillips, whom the Somali pirates were holding hostage-Gingrich could call it big failure by Obama on the world stage.
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:
”Please send some folks to the convention that look like Florida. Could you help a brother out? No more national conventions with [only] 36 people of color in the room.”
– Michael Steele, Chairman, Republican National Committee, speaking at a meeting of Florida Republicans in early April.
They say that, to solve a problem, you first have to know what the problem is.
But after you know what the problem is… you need a way to solve the problem, otherwise, the problem doesn’t go away.
I’ll give this to Michael Steele: he’s not afraid to say what the problem is. As discussed in Blacked Out: African Americans Near Invisible at the Republican Convention,
The 36 black delegates to the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul is the lowest total in 40 years for a Republican National Convention. These delegates represent 1.5 percent of the total number of delegates, substantially below the record setting 6.7 percent in 2004. (Editor’s note: The United States is 13% African American.)
Steele’s statement is useful, insofar it as it acknowledges the GOP’s obvious problem in attracting minorities, and signals that the Republican Party (or at least, that Michael Steele) wants minority input and participation.
The question is: where do they go from there? What is their plan to attract African Americans and Hispanics to the fold?
I have yet to hear it. If you have, drop me a line and let me know.