Political Shifts As More Blacks Elected

Rachel L. Swarns, MSNBC, October 14, 2008

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Political analysts say such electoral gains are quietly changing the political landscape, increasing the number of black lawmakers adept at crossing color lines as well as the ranks of white voters who are familiar, and increasingly comfortable, with black political leadership.

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In 2007, about 30 percent of the nation’s 622 black state legislators represented predominantly white districts, up from about 16 percent in 2001, according to data collected by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group based in Washington that has kept statistics on black elected officials for nearly 40 years.

Political scientists and local officials also point to an increase in the number of black mayors who represent predominantly white cities in places like Asheville, N.C., population 74,000, and Columbus, Ohio, population 748,000. According to a study conducted by Zoltan L. Hajnal, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, about 40 percent of Americans have lived in or near cities that have elected black mayors or in states with black governors.

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In Congress, several black lawmakers now represent predominantly white districts, including Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Representative Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri, Democrats who were elected in 2006 from districts that are more than 60 percent white.

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In the 1980s, few black state legislators represented predominantly white districts, said David A. Bositis, the senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies who conducted the most recent study of black state legislators.

By 2001, that number stood at 92, according to Tyson King-Meadows and Thomas F. Schaller, political scientists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who analyzed statistics from the joint center and other sources. In 2007, the figure was 189, Mr. Bositis said.

About 45 percent of the black state lawmakers represent communities that are 35 percent to 40 percent black in states like Georgia, Indiana and North Carolina. But roughly a quarter represent communities where blacks make up 20 percent or less of the population, including districts in Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan and Tennessee.

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