Sunday, June 12, 2011

Republicans Take Control in Southern States, and Other News

Charles E. Menifield and Stephen D. Shaffer (ed.) Politics in the New South: Representation of African Americans in Southern State Legislatures. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2005.

“Descriptive representation” is the belief that legislators should resemble the demographics of the area represented. It argues legislators should represent the values and views and be similar to their constituencies. This limits creativity and discourages legislators from developing unique views that deviate from the community norms. It does guarantee that the views of that district are presented.

Voters tend to select candidates who are most like themselves. Members of racial groups are most apt to vote for representatives who are members of their own racial group.

Swain, Lublinz, Grofman, Bullock, and Hill have found in various studies that creating districts that will virtually guarantee racial minority representation has harmed general political goals of racial minorities. The concentrating of racial minority votes into districts composed primarily of racial minority residents makes it more difficult for moderates from the majority racial white community who favor racial minority rights from being elected when their districts then consist of greater proportions of whites.

Increases in the numbers of African Americans in state legislatures can be traced to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Mississippi was the state where this increase happened at the slowest rate. Mississippi was also the state that was the slowest in addressing provisions of the Voting Right Act.

Most African Americans elected to Southern state legislatures before 1988 were male.

A survey of African American legislators in the early 1990s found most African legislators in the early 190s felt discriminated against by fellow legislators. They believed they were given less important committee assignments. Studies have confirmed the relative lack of important committee assignments.

Arkansas, compared to other Southern States, were historically less obstructionist against African Americans. African Americans had little difficulty voting in at least parts of Arkansas (not counting the Delta plantations) in the 1940s. Racial integration peacefully occurred in some schools in Arkansas before it became a contentious issue in the 1950s.

The percent of African Americans as a percent of the Arkansas legislative bodies was 3% in both House and Senate through the 1970s increasing to 5% in 1989. Arkansas redistricting was found to be in violated of the Voting Rights Act. Legislative seats most likely to be filled by African Americans were created, with 13 House and 3 Senate of such districts established. The percent of African Americans in the House increased to 10% in the Senate and in the Senate to 9%. In 1998, two additional seats were won by African Americans. A study found African American legislators in Arkansas have often voted together as a block yet they have had little influence on policies.

Florida has experienced much migration from the rest of the U.S. and from Cuba. African American voters found much discrimination before the 1960s. The 1960s brought the Voting Rights Act and the beginnings of large migration to Florida. African Americans increased as a proportion of legislators, yet they were Democrats in a state that was becoming more controlled by Republican politicians. In 1997, the Black Caucus began aligning with Republican legislative leaders on issues such as institution school vouchers, allowing prayer in school, prohibiting same sex marriages, and voting for a Republican education budget over the Democratic proposal. Republicans did not always reach out to African Americans, as noted when Republican Jeb Bush, when running for Governor in 1994, stated he would do “probably nothing” for the African American community. In 1998, Jeb Bush made a point to reach out to the African American community. He was elected Governor that year.

Some African Americans had problems voting in Florida in 2000. Their voting areas have the worst voting arrangements. Some were told they couldn’t vote because they held the same name as a felon even though they weren’t felons who are not allowed to vote in Florida. Police officers reportedly kept some from voting.

In only one session, 1994-96, has one Florida African American House member chaired an important legislative committee. No important Florida Senate committee has been chaired by an African American (Note: book printed in 2005).

The percent of African American legislators in Florida reached its highest percentage in the late 1990s at 12.5% in both chambers. This happened as a result of implementing more districts that would likely elect an African American. Florida was 14.6% African American in 2000. African American representation is almost proportional to the percent of population yet the legislators have not obtained significant influence.

In 1965, the Southern states with the highest percent of African Americans registered were Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Mississippi has the lowest percent at 6.7%

13% of Georgia legislators were African American in 1980-82. In 2000, the percent was 18%. In 1991-94, this percent was 22%. Georgia’s population was 28.7% African American in 2000.

Georgia Democratic African American legislators voted differently than did white Georgia Democratic legislators 50% of the time in the House and 30% of the tie in the Senate.

In 2000, 29% of Mississippi House members and 19% of its Senate members were African American. In 2000, 33% of Mississippi House committees were chaired by African Americans. African American legislators in Mississippi have worked with white Democrats to pass affirmative action legislation, motor voter legislation, and other issues important to African Americans. The Black Caucus has formed coalitions with white Democrats to support public education, especially in pooer communities.

During Reconstruction, there were as many as 2 African American Senate and 12 African American House members in the 1871 Texas legislature. Texas took steps to prevent African Americans from voting in 1883 and increased these efforts with a poll tax in 1902. Texas was not initially included in the enforcement provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In 1999, 9.3% of the Texas House and 6.4% of the Texas Senate were African American. The percent of representation has not deviated much from 1981 on. (Note: The book was printed in 2005).

A study of Alabama politics has found Alabama politicians generally less responsive to African American political influence than in most other states.

In 2000, 32.2% of Louisiana’s population was African American. Ernest “Dutch” Morial in 1968 was the first African American to serve in the Louisiana House since Reconstruction. In 2000, 21.0% of House members and 21.5% of Senate members were African Americans. 2 of 17 Senate committee and 3 of 16 House committees were chaired by African Americans.

22% of North Carolina’s population was African American in 2000. 14.2% of House members and 14.1% of Senate members were African Americans in 2000. African Americans served as Speaker (Daniel Blue) and House Majority Leader (Milton Fitch) until their Democratic party lost control of the House. In 2000, African Americans held influential committee chairmanships of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House Appropriations Committee.

In South Carolina, African Americans held no legislative committee chairmanships or vice chairmanships in the Senate and one House chair and one House vice chair position in 2000.

In Tennessee, African Americans held 9% of the House and 9% of the Senate seat in 1980. They held 13% of House seat and 12% Senate seats in 2000. African Americans saw 55.8% of their bills passed in 1987 and 57.2% passed in 1988. These percentages compare with the 54.1% in 1987 and 48.9% in 1988 passed b white legislators. A study found African Americans tend to work on significant legislation that helped their constituencies on education, health care, economic issues, etc.

In Virginia, 4.0% of House members and 3.6% of Senate members in 1980 were African Americans. In 2000, 10.0% of House members and 10.7% of Senate members were African Americans. An African American, Douglas Wilder, presided over the Senate as Lt. Governor. Yet, there were no African American chairs nor many bills sponsored by African Americans passed while Wilder presided. (Wilder later became Governor). There were no African American Senate chairs and three were House chairs in 2000.

Legislative Black Caucus positions had chamber success rates of 96% in Texas, 79% in Georgia, 67% in Mississippi, 59% in Florida, and 44% in Arkansas.


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