Monday, April 29, 2013

How racial gerrymandering is blocking the rise of more black politicians

Politico has a long article about how black politicians are not rising in the age of Obama. The article lays out several factors contributing to the lack of a farm team of black politicians ready to rise to higher political positions. While they talk about the role of majority-minority districts as making it seem that black politicians represent only black issues, I think they're missing the point. These gerrymandered districts which guarantee the election of a minority candidate also guarantee that the more liberal candidates win. In fact, some of the most radical members of the Congress are members of the Congressional Black Caucus. They get elected by talking only to black voters and campaigning on a racial basis. In fact, they're quite clear that the CBC exists only for blacks and not for white politicians who might represent black voters as they've refused to let such white politicians join the caucus. One of the original founders of the CBC, Representative William Lacy Clay of Missouri issued a statement when a white politician tried to join the caucus stating explicitly that there was a racial barrier to a white politician trying to join an organization devoted to representing the issues of black constituents.
“Quite simply, Rep. Cohen will have to accept what the rest of the country will have to accept – there has been an unofficial congressional white caucus for over 200 years, and now it’s our turn to say who can join the ‘the club.’ He does not, and cannot, meet the membership criteria, unless he can change his skin color. Primarily, we are concerned with the needs and concerns of the black population, and we will not allow white America to infringe on those objectives.”
So much for appeals to representing biracial concerns. Politicians with those feelings are not going to win statewide election.

Some of those representatives coming from districts gerrymandered to ensure their election have been around a long time and have now risen to positions of seniority within their party. While that is good for those individuals, it basically precludes any hope of those representatives winning on a statewide basis because they inhabit a political location far beyond the mainstream.

Ironically, some Democrats are recognizing that the existence of these gerrymandered districts are blocking black politicians from rising to higher office.
Recent evidence would suggest it’s easier for blacks to win Senate seats or governorships when they don’t hail from overwhelmingly black districts. Obama initially represented significant numbers of African-Americans in Chicago as a state senator, but made sure that when lines were redrawn following the 2000 census to move his district into the moneyed precincts of Lakeshore liberals. Patrick, for his part, had never run for office when he became Massachusetts governor – his background was in the corporate world and in Bill Clinton’s Justice Department.

And Scott, the appointed South Carolina senator, faces his first Senate election next year having previously represented a House district that was 70 percent white and 19 percent black.
Since black Republicans have no hope of winning election from one of those majority-minority districts, they can craft a message that will win votes from both races.
In fact, as some black Democrats concede, it can be easier for a black Republican to win white votes.

Scott said he’s not running as a black politician and argued that, in doing so, he’s fulfilling the content-of-our-character civil rights ideal.

“The civil rights movement and evolution of our country has always been about judging people as individuals,” said the South Carolinian, adding: “I’m convinced that South Carolinians are willing to elect a guy who doesn't look like them if he thinks like them.”

Shannon, the 35-year-old Oklahoma House speaker, is another Republican who has flourished in a white majority area by emphasizing his philosophy.

“I didn't run as an African-American,” said Shannon. “I ran as a conservative from southern Oklahoma and that message is appealing to a lot of people.”
So, ironically, the gerrymandering that black politicians have sought to preserve their reelections is also harming their higher ambitions.

Perhaps if we stopped gerrymandering on the basis of race, we'd see more ideological diversity among our black politicians. And that would be a good thing for those politicians and for the country. But what are the chances that those black politicians in power and their white Democratic counterparts would ever allow a reform of the Voting Rights Act to get rid of those districts? Slim to nil.