Black Out At The State Level
Politico’s Jonathan Martin has a sudden concern for the dire state of black governors and senators. The statistics are pretty grim: Massachusetts has Gov. Deval Patrick, who recently appointed Mo Cowan to fill John Kerry’s Senate seat and Republicans have appointed Tim Scott in South Carolina to replace the retiring Jim DeMint in the upper chamber. But if you’re wondering why Martin would pen 2,000 plus words on the subject, it’s because it turns into an opportunity for Obama bashing from the black community. Rep. John Lewis has the right of it:
“We’re not there yet. That’s why when people ask me whether the election of President Obama is the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, I say, ‘No, it’s just a down payment. There’s still a lot of work to do.’”
On the other side, there’s Tavis Smiley.
“The reality is that for all of the euphoria about the election of Barack Obama in black America, his election has not had coattails.”
That brings me to the much larger point: Barack Obama isn’t the person running the effort to get more Democrats, black or otherwise, into office. The real problem is that since the 2010 election, when the same distressed Democrats walked away from President Obama and the voting booth and handed over control of state legislatures to Republicans during a redistricting cycle, the cold reality is the GOP has maximized its efforts to gerrymander, disenfranchise, and contain the black vote to a few urban districts as possible.
And while that’s certainly hurt Democrats in the House, that doesn’t fully explain the lack of black candidates in governor’s mansions and in the U.S. Senate, where redistricting has much less of an effect on statewide races. The answer to that is simple: money.
The Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited fundraising by corporate donors, has done untold damage to our political system as a whole. But the impact of it has been disproportionately felt by the black community. President Obama certainly has been able to put together one of those most effective fundraising machines in political history, but he’s the exception that proves the rule that without money, black candidates just cannot compete. With endless corporate cash flowing in from Wall Street, it’s bad for the political power of average Americans in general, but for the black community it’s a flood that is drowning our voices out. That decision wasn’t Barack Obama’s doing either.
It’s easy to put the blame on the president here. The reality is that Democrats are going to be paying for 2010 until at least the 2022 elections. The same people who turned their back on the president then are still wondering why the situation hasn’t magically improved heading into 2014, and there’s all the hallmarks of people not learning the lessons of the last midterm election. The reality is Democrats as a whole are not winning at the state level. Consider key states like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are run by Republicans. North Carolina’s newly empowered GOP is dismantling voter protections and Michigan’s GOP has been engaged in a protracted battle to take down black politicians in the state.
African-Americans continue to be one of the most loyal voting blocs for Democrats across the board, but we’re by no means in it alone. There’s evidence that turnout among black voters has percentage wise surpassed that of white voters overall. That’s coming in the response to the GOP trying to disenfranchise black voters and it’s a great development, but having said that it’s going to take all of us to move forward. If we make the same mistakes in 2014 that we did in 2010, we may never recover from the damage.
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