Posted on November 23, 2010

Is Black Political Power Under Siege?

Charles D. Ellison, Huffington Post, November 22, 2010

In the past two weeks, one could make the argument that African American politicians are somehow under siege.

With Republicans headed into a majority, the four Congressional Black Caucus Members lose Chairmanships over powerful House committees. Eighteen will give up subcommittee Chairs. {snip}

Founding CBC Member Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-NY) ethics trial ends up in an embarrassing vote for censure. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) will be next to face the House Ethics Committee gavel. Two others, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), are in the immediate inquiry pipeline.

There is a larger issue of waning Black political influence nationwide. Much of it is simple partisan calculus: most Black elected officials are staunch Democrats, and there are few either willing or in an able position to leverage relationships on the other side of the aisle. Loss of 19 state legislatures to Republicans, who now wield the ruthless magic wand of redistricting, poses a political life-and-death scenario to the 630 Black and mostly Democratic state legislators spread throughout the fifty states. That also poses a problem to CBC Members enjoying safe majority-Black districts. Some are nervous they could lose seats to a happily gerrymandering GOP.

Even on the Republican side–and despite major gains for the party on Nov. 2nd–a chorus of GOP elected officials are calling for the resignation of Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, the party’s first Black chair. {snip}

{snip} While their White Democratic colleagues might be resigned to it, licking wounds from electoral losses, the stakes are higher for the Black Members who represent a larger community in desperate need of real political influence.

The uncomfortable jolt of reality is already spurring bold bids for Ranking Members positions on major Committees as Black Members find their bearing. {snip}


Black political power and influence appears somehow strafed and in serious condition since the midterm elections. Even President Barack Obama is not immune as he fends off assaults from both left and right, including a Washington Post column by two prominent Democratic strategists recommending he pass on reelection in 2012. A combination of scandal, Republican electoral tsunamis and lack of coordinated response to the new political climate have left Black politicos trapped in a smoky wilderness of uncertainty. {snip}

{snip} After rapid maturation over the past 40 years, course correction is essential as African American politicians evolve. However, we have not arrived, yet, and we cannot act as though we have–high unemployment numbers, foreclosure rates, disproportionate public health indicators and the inability of many to afford a college education speaks to that. {snip}