There has been a lot of talk and reporting on the 87 incoming Republican freshmen who are launching their federal legislative careers in the 112th Congress, over half of them self-identified “tea party” goers who are expected to form an ideological caucus once the session gets started. But, there is little reporting on the very small or comparative pixel of a grouping of 9 Democratic freshman entering the House this session. Of course, all the spoils of media coverage go to the victor. But, there is something even more striking about this Democratic freshman class that seems stuffed behind the headlines: five out of nine of them (56%) are African American.
That says quite a bit, not only in terms of the demographics or make up of the House, but also about the direction of Black political development in relation to the Democratic party. It also says something about how much the Democratic party relies on steadfast support and activity from the mainstream Black political establishment. And it speaks to the central role Black elected officials play in the Democratic party and how the party’s electoral successes hinge greatly on the election of more African Americans.
All five of those new Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are also former members of the National Black Caucus of State Legislatures. Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) served in the Michigan legislature. As did Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL). Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) ran things as Speaker of the California Assembly. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) hails from Louisiana’s House. And the cowboy-hat wearing Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), thinks she can do on Capitol Hill what she did in the Florida state legislature.
The two new Black Republican members are split in their professional background. Rep. Allen West (R-FL) is a retired Army Colonel while Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) is a former South Carolina state legislator and owner of an insurance business.
David Fahrenthold in the Washington Post also points out that nearly all of the Democrats are professional politicians compared to their Republican counterparts. And in a somewhat interesting development, Democrats failed to produce any Latinos in the House this past election cycle, despite enjoying nearly 70% support from that demographic:
The incoming Democrats make a sharp contrast with the freshmen across the aisle. According to House figures, the Democratic freshman class is 44 percent women (four in nine) and 56 percent African American (five in nine), compared with 11 percent women (nine in 82) and less than 2 percent (two in 82) on the GOP side.
Among the GOP freshmen are five Hispanics; the Democrats have none.
The Republican class also comes with different experience. Many GOP freshmen had never run for office before. Eight of the nine Democrats have held an elected post. They include Bass, who was speaker of her state’s assembly; Hanabusa, who was president of her state’s Senate; and David Cicilline (R.I.), 49, the former mayor of Providence.
It’s not unusual to have so many Black elected officials rising into federal office once you examine the professional make-up of the Congressional Black Caucus and notice the majority of Members are former state or local elected officials. The new Chair of the Caucus, Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO), is a former Mayor of Kansas City.