Dana Gresham. Currently there are no African American Chiefs of Staff in the U.S. Senate. On January 3rd at noon after Senator-Elect Doug Jones is sworn in there will be one: Dana Gresham.
There has been a long discussion about the lack of diversity in the U.S. Senate regarding senior staff members. There are less than ten Black Chiefs of Staff, Communications Directors and Legislative Directors in the Senate. Headed by Prof. Spencer Overton, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies put on a push for better diversity in the U.S. Senate’s staff ranks.
The Joint Center’s efforts received a lot of attention after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced a “Rooney Rule” for Senate hiring on the Democratic side of the isle. Much of the hiring of African American senior staff has been done by Republican Senators.
“In December 2015, there were 336 top Senate staffers (Chiefs of Staff, Legislative Directors, Communications Directors, and Staff Directors), but only 24 staffers of color–12 Asian Americans, 7 Latinos, 3 African Americans, and 2 Native Americans,” the Joint Center reported a year ago.
The role of senior staff members on Capitol Hill can’t be understated. Senior staff members for members of Congress manage the Senate legislative agenda, shape the $3.8 trillion U.S. federal budget and serve as key gatekeepers in terms of hiring. Because Ambassadors, federal judges and cabinet secretaries are confirmed by the Senate the power dynamics for those who serve in senior staff positions are obvious.
Jones hiring an African American Chief of Staff will likely mean that many in Gresham’s circle of influential friends and associates will be eligible for jobs and influence in Jones’ office and elsewhere.
After Jones shocked the political world with his victory in the deep red state of Alabama in early December, many wondered if his staff would reflect who most assisted him into the U.S. Senate. Jones must have head the voices. With the hiring of the Senate’s only Black Chief of Staff the answer would appear to be yes.
Black women played an outsized and historic role in elected Jones. Whether Jones will select a Black female for a senior staff position as well remains to be seen. More staff positions are likely to be filled within the next two weeks.