Racial Politics Absurdity in Mississippi, Part 1

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.”

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If Lobbying Money Talks, the African American Constituency is Muted on Capitol Hill

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
– First Amendment of the US Constitution

The Constitution makes it clear that Americans have the right petition the government to redress their grievances. But the Constitution says nothing about the money that’s needed to do this petitioning.

And if money is needed to effectively petition for the redress of our grievances, then the black community may be grieving in quiet.

A review of lobbying expenditures in 2008 shows that major lobbyists for the African American constituency – the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the National Urban League – spent a pittance compared to the lobbying powerhouses of Washington, DC.

As wikipedia describes it, “Lobbying is the practice of influencing decisions made by government. It includes all attempts to influence legislators and officials, whether by other legislators, constituents or organized groups. Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying.”

In Washington, DC, millions of dollars are spent annually to lobby the Congress or the Administration for one thing or another. According to a recent edition of the National Journal, these are the lobbying expenditures for the top 15 firms in 2008:
1. US Chamber of Commerce: $62.3 million
2. Institute for Legal Reform (US Chamber): $29.2 M
3. ExxonMobil: $29.0 M
4. AARP: $27.9 M
5. Northrop Grumman: $20.6 M
6. PhRMA: $20.2 M
7. American Medical Association: $20.9 M
8. GE: $18.6 M
9. National Assn of Realtors: $17.2 M

10. American Hospital Association: $16.7 M
11. Boeing: $16.6 M
12. Lockheed Martin: $15.3 M
13. Koch Industries: $15.1 M
14. AT&T Services (and affiliates): $15.0 M
15. National Cable and Telecommunications Association: $14.2 M

And this is what the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the National Urban League – the biggest lobbying organizations for the African American constituency – spent in 2008:
• NAACP: $100,000
• the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF): $160,000
• the National Urban League (NUL): $240,00

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Political Miscellany @ 12/2/2008

Greetings. All Other Persons has been out for a while on vacation, but we are back to it. I hope all of you enjoyed your holiday.

OK, we’re just about at the end of the 2008 election season. Here are some political news and notes as we reach the close of what has been an exciting year.

Epic Fail by Black Republican Challenger in Georgia Congressional Election

This is perhaps the ultimate example of throwing good money after bad. The web site OpenSecrets.org discusses a congressional race between two African American candidates in the Atlanta, Georgia area:

Despite raising over four times more than her incumbent opponent, Republican Deborah Honeycutt lost this week by a landslide in the race to represent Georgia’s 13th District. 

Honeycutt, who raised $4.7 million compared to Rep. David Scott’s $1 million, has received a fair share of negative media attention for being a client of BMW Direct, a DC-based fundraising firm.

BMW Direct has come under scrutiny for its strategy of raising handsome sums from conservative donors for Republican candidates who stand little-to-no chance of being elected.

The money raised by Honeycutt is astounding. OpenSecrets.org, which is a product of the Center for Responsive Politics, estimates that “the average cost of winning a House race in 2008 was nearly $1.1 million, based on pre-election finance reports.” Honeycutt quadrupled that level of fund raising for her campaign, and still lost. In no other House race this season did the losing candidate so outspend the eventual winner.

Honeycutt’s opponent, Democrat David Scott, got 69% of the vote, versus 31% for Honeycutt.

The “Vote Shortage” in the Georgia Senate Election on November 5.

In a recent post, I talked about the runoff election for Georgia’s senate seat, which is being waged between Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss, and Democratic challenger Jim Martin. The runoff election is being held today.

Some post-election analysis of the election voting in Georgia on November 5 shows some very curious numbers:
o President: 1,844,137 votes for Obama
o Senate: 1,757,419 votes for Martin
o All House Races: 1,858,123 votes for Democrats

Martin, a white moderate Democrat from Georgia, got 86,000 less votes than Barack Obama, a black northerner with a liberal background. And that doesn’t make sense. (Note that, even if Martin had gotten that extra 86,000 votes, he still would not have beaten Chambliss.)

In total, there were almost 170,000 more votes for the presidential candidates than there were for the Senate candidates. People are asking, why were there so fewer votes for senator than there were president?

Jay Bookman, writing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, notes that

More than 168,000 Georgia voters went to the polls on Nov. 4 and cast ballots for president, then walked out without bothering to cast a vote in the highly advertised U.S. Senate race between Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin.

That seems like a lot — an undervote of 4.3 percent.

In North Carolina, the Senate undervote was 1.1 percent of the presidential total. In Oregon it was 3.3 percent, and 2.3 percent in New Hampshire. The only state where the total approached Georgia’s was Louisiana, at 4.0 percent.

So who were these people? Were they Obama voters who just cast their ballots for their favorite and walked out? The evidence for that is weak. In Fulton County, which went for Obama by more than 2-1, the undervote was 2.85 percent, lower than the undervote rate in McCain counties such as Cobb (3.4 percent) and Cherokee (3.1 percent). In DeKalb County the rate was 4.4 percent, about the state average.

What’s significant about Fulton and DeKalb is that they are Atlanta area counties with a large number of black voters.

This might be a result, at least in part, of the failure of DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones, who is African American, to endorse Martin’s senate bid. Jones, who lost to Martin in a primary runoff in August, has criticized Martin for not supporting Barack Obama’s presidential run. Martin voted for Democrat John Edwards in Georgia’s February presidential primary even though Edwards already had dropped out of the race.

Early voting in the Geogia runoff election is not promising for Martin, as far as black participation goes. Among those who cast their votes prior to today, in the so-called “early vote,” blacks were 22% of total voters. By comparison, blacks cast almost 35% of the early votes prior to the November 5 election. These numbers could mean that black interest in the runoff election is low… and by extension, that Martin’s odds of winning are not good at all.

African Americans Get Leadership Positions in State Legislatures Out West

It seems like the West is best for black state legislators who seek leadership positions. These are the African American legislators who are presiding or leading officers in American state houses:

o Democrat Emil Jones, Jr., President of the Illinois Senate
o Democrat Karen Bass, Speaker of the California Assembly
o Democrat Peter Groff, President of the Colorado Senate President
o Democrat Terrance Carroll, Speaker of the Colorado (starting in 2009)
o Democrat Steven Horsford, President of the Nevada Senate

(Democrat Malcolm Smith is in-line to become leader of the NY state senate, however, his bid for that position is facing difficulties.)

It is notable that African Americans are less than 7% of the population in California, Colorado, and Nevada, and yet, blacks have risen to high leadership postions in their statehouses.

Meanwhile, the black population in the Deep South states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina is between 25-36% of the state total, but none has ever had an African American leader in their state legislatures.

The Wilder Era Comes to a Close in Virginia

Doug Wilder, the trailblazing African American politician from Virginia, is about to end his career as an elected official. In 1990, he became the first African American ever to be elected to governor of an American state.

Wilder, has been serving as mayor of Richmond, Virginia since 2005. He decided not to run for re-election this year.

His successor as Richmond mayor will be Dwight Jones. Jones, who won out over a field of several mayoral candidates with 39% of the vote, is a pastor and leader of the Virginia legislative Black Caucus. He narrowly defeated Richmond City Council president William Pantele after running a campaign centered on education and social justice issues.

Political Miscellany @ 11/17/2008

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-legislators
Colorado Rep. Terrance Carroll; Colorado Sen. Peter Groff

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.

cook-and-council
Incoming Nebraska State Senators Tanya Cook and Brenda Council
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National Urban League: Evolve or Die

In the wake of the mortgage meltdown, many (overwhelmingly conservative and Republican) critics have tried to make scapegoats out of “unqualified minority home purchasers” in general, and the Community Reinvestment Act, in particular. The CRA is a federal law which was designed to expand home-ownership for minorities in light of a long history of discriminatory lending by American banks.

This idea has been debunked as being wrong and even offensive. Marc Morial, who heads the National Urban League, gave compelling testimony before the Senate last week in which he defended the CRA, and decried that black borrowers were the subject of “blame the victim” attacks.

I hoped that Morial’s remarks, which I heard on C-SPAN radio, might be put on YouTube so I could post it to this blog. No such luck.

I thought that maybe the NUL website would have a transcript of his testimony, parts of which I could cut and paste onto this blog. No such luck.

What’s up with that?

In times like these, groups like the NUL should be taking advantage of modern communication tools, like YouTube, to spread its message. But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Recently, I’ve been reading the book The Practical Progressive: How to Build a Twenty-first Century Political Movement by Erica Payne. Payne makes the comment:

After the defeat of Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, conservative philanthropists began to build a set if ideologically-aligned institutions-academic centers, think tanks, legal advicacy institutions, watchdog groups, single issue groups, community organizations and media vehicles-to change the intellectual and political climate of the country.

In the last 40 years, this “infrastructure” has supported and promoted conservative ideology so effectively, that it ultimately assured its political dominance.

In 2002 progressives began to wake up to this enormous structural disparity. We began to understand that our candidates are losing not because they were bad candidates but because they were structurally outmatched.

We were sending David to fight Goliath without a slingshot. So we began to build new institutions outside of politics and to transform old organizations to meet the challenge.

Payne’s book contains profiles of several dozen progressive organizations, such a ACORN and ColorOfChange.org, which are part of the new “progressive infrastructure” that is working for positive change in our society.

The NUL was conspicuously absent from the groups which are included in the book. Apparently, it is not sufficiently transformed to be considered a reliable force among the network of progressive groups.

I’ll discuss this some more in a follow-up to this post. But the point I want to make now is this: It’s past time for groups like the NUL to evolve into effective 21st century vehicles for African American advocacy. That’s not just my opinion; the belief is widespread among many observers in the black community. Reportedly, the membership in these organizations is declining, and their reputation is taking a hit as well.

I’m not expecting the NUL or other older black groups like the NAACP or SCLC to change overnight. But is it too much to expect that these groups use Internet platforms like YouTube to capture and publish their message en masse? If they’re unable to do basic tasks like that, then real change within these organizations is going to be a long time coming.