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“How Pathetically Low Diversity Is On Capitol Hill”: The US Senate: The World’s Whitest Deliberative Body

In the last couple of years racial politics have dominated our political discourse. Regardless of party affiliation or racial identification, most Americans have probably grown to agree on at least one thing: There are no easy policy solutions for solving America’s racial discord and the inequality that fuels it. But I would go a step further and say this is even truer with the current Congress we have in place. While lack of bipartisanship gets most of the credit, or rather blame, for the ineffectiveness of the American Congress, new data highlight another culprit: lack of diversity among senior Senate aides.

A new report out from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that “(p)eople of color make up over 36 percent of the U.S. population, but only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers.” While the numbers are not good for any ethnic minority population, they are abysmal for black Americans. According to the report, “African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers.” This is particularly troubling given how lacking in diversity the Senate already is. There are currently two African Americans serving in the U.S. Senate (Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tim Scott of South Carolina), one Asian American (Mazie Hirono of Hawaii), and two Hispanic Americans (Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.)

But lack of racial diversity isn’t the only problem plaguing Congress. Last year, for the first time in history, the majority of members of Congress reported being millionaires. This in an age in which the median wealth of America’s middle class is just over $44,000.

Now I’m not here to argue that white millionaires should be excluded from Congress. But I am here to argue that they shouldn’t comprise most of Congress.

Why?

Well for starters, ideally we should have a legislative body reflective of the people it represents. But beyond idealism, there is a very real policy deficit we face as a country when we have people who have never experienced problems firsthand, tasked with crafting solutions for those problems.

For instance, for years there has been little done at a federal level to address the issue of racial profiling or police brutality. The reason is not hard to understand: For a white member of Congress who has likely been treated with respect and deference by most members of law enforcement he or she has come into contact with, it’s easy to fathom that he would not consider this a serious or prevalent issue.

Thanks to camera phones, now many elected officials know what black Americans have known all along: There are great members of law enforcement, but there are also far too many who abuse their power and position. Just think for a moment how many lives may have been saved if elected officials, either from their own experiences, or the experiences of their senior aides, had known to prioritize this issue years ago. It is not a coincidence that a black senator, Tim Scott, has been a driving force behind efforts to secure additional federal funding for body cameras for law enforcement to help address this issue.

Similarly, it is not a coincidence that President Obama has made college accessibility and affordability legislative priorities during his time in elected office. Neither he nor his wife came from wealthy backgrounds, and financial aid enabled them both to attend elite universities that allowed them entrée into the halls of power in which they now reside. Is it possible that another president could have been knowledgeable on this issue? Sure. But consider this: Gov. Mitt Romney, President Obama’s opponent in the last presidential election, came from a wealthy and prominent family, so he never endured the hardship of not knowing whether he would graduate college because of his financial status—something I and millions of other Americans have endured.

To be clear, the issue of diversity, or rather lack thereof, within the Senate is not party specific. The Joint Center report notes that while African Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic, black Americans comprise just .7 percent of top Democratic Senate posts. It could be argued that lack of diversity among Senate aides is even more problematic than lack of diversity among elected officials because senior aides do much of the heaving lifting when it comes to actually writing legislation. So what can be done to change things?

For starters, elected officials and the parties that support them need to make a concerted effort to diversify their internship pools. As someone who started her career as an intern, I speak from experience when I say it is not uncommon to see the most plum internships for prominent candidates and in prominent offices become a resting place for the children of political donors and their friends. These internships can often serve as a pipeline to jobs in the Senate or the White House down the road.

Additionally, both major parties need to begin setting aside some of the money they reserve for attack ads on each other for money to be spent on well-paid racial and class diversity fellowships. Very few young people, except the children of wealthy donors or the wealthy period, can afford to work on campaigns for next to nothing and live with the financial instability early campaign life provides.

But I would say the real responsibility falls into the hands of those of us who claim we’re fed up with our do-nothing Congress. If we’re not happy with them, simply threatening to throw them out during the next election cycle is not enough. We should be asking them the right questions while they’re there representing us. But how many of us bother to ask who our elected officials hire once they get in office? And whether those people are representative of us and have our best interests at heart? In the same way we demand our elected officials keep us updated on their legislative accomplishments, why don’t we demand more regular transparency on who they are surrounding themselves with?

For anything to really change, more of us fed up non-millionaires need to be willing to run for office, or encourage someone we trust to. Or at the very least we need to tell as many bright, young people from underrepresented groups that we can that if they really want to make a difference instead of just expressing outrage on social media, they should become a Senate aide.

 

By: Keli Goff, The Daily Beast, December 27, 2015

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Diversity, Racial Inequality, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Has A Seat At the Table?”: Walking His Talk, Obama Has Presided Over The Most Demographically Diverse Administration In History

Back in January 2013, Annie Lowrey wrote an article that surprised a lot of us titled: Obama’s Remade Inner Circle Has an All-Male Look, So Far.

…Mr. Obama has put together a national security team dominated by men, with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts nominated to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the secretary of state, Chuck Hagel chosen to be the defense secretary and John O. Brennan nominated as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Given the leading contenders for other top jobs, including chief of staff and Treasury secretary, Mr. Obama’s inner circle will continue to be dominated by men well into his second term.

From the White House down the ranks, the Obama administration has compiled a broad appointment record that has significantly exceeded the Bush administration in appointing women but has done no better than the Clinton administration, according to an analysis of personnel data by The New York Times.

Lowrey obviously wrote that when the administration was in the midst of transition, as many first-term appointees left their positions and the President was appointing their replacements. But it fed a meme that had been developed early on in the administration that the White House culture was dominated by men (at least until some folks decided to put a target on Valerie Jarrett’s back as the woman who was responsible for all of the President’s failings).

Recently, Juliet Eilperin revisited the whole issue of Obama’s appointments – not only of women, but a more broad perspective of diversity in the administration.

Obama has presided over the most demographically diverse administration in history, according to a new analysis of his top appointments. The majority of top policy appointments within the executive branch are held by women and minorities for the first time in history.

The transformation partly reflects a broader trend in U.S. society, but it also reflects the results of a calculated strategy by the nation’s first African American president. The shifts are significant enough, experts say, that they may have forever transformed the face of government…

O’Connell said that her research reveals that Obama has placed women and minorities in 53.5 percent of those posts. His predecessor, President George W. Bush, by contrast, installed women and minorities in 25.6 percent, while President Clinton’s number was 37.5 percent.

In order to chart that development over the last few presidents, the Washington Post provided some interesting graphs.

Due to the fact that the lead for this article was the announcement by the White House that President Obama will nominate Eric Fanning as the first openly-gay Secretary of the Army, Eilperin also notes the following:

And Fanning’s nomination punctuates the fact that members of the LGBT community have also made similar advances under Obama: There are now hundreds of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender appointees in the executive branch, compared with a handful in past administrations.

One omission in all this is the lack of any reporting on Native American appointments. I am not aware of any that the Obama administration has nominated to Cabinet positions, but the only Native American currently serving as a federal judge is Diane Humetewa, who was nominated by President Obama in September 2013 (the President previously nominated Arvo Mikkanen, but his confirmation was blocked by Senate Republicans).

When President Obama says that “everyone gets a seat at the table,” this is an example of him walking his talk.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 27, 2015

September 28, 2015 Posted by | Diversity, Executive Branch, Minorities, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is Progress?”: The Unbearable Whiteness Of Congress

Cue the confetti: The new Congress sworn in on Tuesday is the most diverse in our nation’s history!

That would truly be a milestone to celebrate—until you see what that record “diversity” actually means. Ready? The breakdown of the 114th Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male, and 92 percent Christian.

That’s really diverse if, say, you are comparing our new Congress to the white supremacist group House Majority Whip Steve Scalise once addressed. It’s like Congress is stuck in a time warp: While our calendars read 2015, theirs reads more like 1955.

Look, I don’t care if you are a liberal or a conservative. It’s impossible to make the claim that our Congress accurately reflects the demographics of our nation. And it’s not missing by a little but a lot. If Congress accurately reflected our nation on the basis of race, about 63 percent would be white, not 80 percent. Blacks would hold about 13 percent of the seats and Latinos 17 percent.

But what do we really see? The new Senate has only two black senators. That statistic is even more striking given that earlier this week the first black person ever elected to the Senate, Edward Brooke, was laid to rest. Brooke won his seat in 1966 and served two terms. How far has Congress really evolved on race when in 50 years it has gone from one black senator to two? (Even the arguably more democratic House is only at 10 percent black members.)

Latinos, the fastest growing minority group in America, are even more underrepresented in Congress. They hold 3 percent of the Senate and a little over 7 percent of the House.

And let’s look at religion. Congress is now 92 percent Christian, resembling more to a papal enclave than our religiously diverse nation. The latest Pew Poll found that nearly 20 percent of Americans identify as atheist, agnostic, or not being affiliated with any religion. Yet there’s only one member of Congress, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who openly acknowledges she’s not a member of any religious group.

OK, let’s put race, ethnicity, and religion aside and address the most glaring underrepresentation in Congress of any group: women. This Congress will welcome more women than ever before at 19 percent of the House and 20 percent of the Senate. So what percentage of America is female? It’s 51 percent.

Even internally in the House, women are not getting their fair shake. While 19 percent of the House is female, just one woman will get to chair one of its 20 committees.

There are various reasons—some rather complex, some rather base—why our Congress doesn’t come close to reflecting the demographics of our nation. One that affects all the groups is that Congress moves slowly, and I don’t mean just on passing legislation. Historically the reelection rate for members of Congress is in the area of 95 percent. The benefits of incumbency are quite potent, especially in the all-important area of raising campaign funds. This is likely the single biggest reason why you don’t see Congress evolve demographically more quickly. (Term limits could be a prescription to speed change along.)

Minority communities also have had to deal with the issue of “racial gerrymandering,” where congressional districts are designed either to dilute the strength of a minority community, known as “cracking,” or over-concentrate them, known as “packing.” While “packing” will lead to the guarantee of a few seats in Congress, it also can reduce the opportunities for minority candidates, says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the Latino group NALEO. Finding the “sweet spot” between packing and cracking, he says, is central to creating more districts that provide minorities the opportunity to be elected to Congress.

And then comes the issue of women in Congress. The United States now ranks 98th in the world for the percentage of women serving in its national legislature, behind Indonesia and Kenya.

Why are so few women serving in our Congress? Studies have offered us a few reasons, some contradictory. One found that women have less interest in seeking elected office, with 48 percent of the men surveyed having considered a career in politics but only 35 percent of women. Partly this was due to women receiving less encouragement to go into politics and having lower self-confidence about running for Congress.

But in the case of black women, another study found no lack of interest. Rather, black women are not recruited to run because party bigwigs view them as being less electable and less likely to raise the campaign dollars needed to mount an effective campaign than white women or men.

With all that said, representation of each of these respective communities has increased in the new Congress. But as Vargas noted, “Progress never comes fast enough.”

So what would happen if our Congress accurately, or at least more closely, reflected our nation’s demographics? Would our Congress be less dysfunctional? That feels like the old Catskills joke that ends with the punch line “It can’t get any worse!”

But people in the underrepresented groups might see Congress as truly being representative of who they are and their views, as opposed to seeing it as an institution still dominated by the old guard. That could (possibly) lead to a Congress that’s more responsive. And that’s good for all of us, regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity, or gender.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, January 9, 2015

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Diversity, Women in Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Color Bind”: Something Tells Me There’s A Glass Ceiling Above This New Crowd Of Diverse Republicans

Beyond noting the irony of an anti-affirmative action party promoting diversity, a New York Times report on successful efforts by state-level Republicans to recruit and elect candidates of color compels us to ask a few questions.

As Republicans took control of an unprecedented 69 of 99 statehouse chambers in the midterm elections, they did not rely solely on a bench of older white men. Key races hinged on the strategic recruitment of women and minorities, many of them first-time candidates who are now learning the ropes and joining the pool of prospects for higher office.

They include Jill Upson, the first black Republican woman elected to the West Virginia House; Victoria Seaman, the first Latina Republican elected to the Nevada Assembly; Beth Martinez Humenik, whose win gave Republicans a one-seat edge in the Colorado Senate; and Young Kim, a Korean-American woman who was elected to the California Assembly, helping to break the Democratic supermajority in the State Legislature.

In Pennsylvania, Harry Lewis Jr., a retired black educator, won in a new House district that was expected to be a Democratic stronghold; he printed his campaign materials in English and Spanish. Of the 12 Latinos who will serve in statewide offices across the nation in 2015, eight are Republican.

“This is not just rhetoric — we spent over $6 million to identify new women and new candidates of diversity and bring them in,” said Matt Walter, the executive director of the Republican State Leadership Committee. “Most of these chambers were flipped because there was a woman or a person of diverse ethnicity in a key targeted seat.”

That the GOP, on a state level, appears to recognize the merits of racial and ethnic diversity is good thing. What about the benefits of ideological diversity?

It is not clear yet where the new Republican elected officials fall on the ideological spectrum. Several who were interviewed for this article, including [newly elected New Mexico State Representative Sarah Maestas Barnes], said they were focused on economic issues like job creation, not social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Ms. Barnes said that she had made it clear to party leaders that she would entertain good ideas no matter which party floated them, and that she had been promised the freedom to vote her conscience.

Is that promise valid? What happens if these Republicans of color embrace views that might offend certain special interests or donors? What if they take a position ALEC doesn’t approve of? Will they be run out of town, the way heterodox Republicans are on a federal level (think ex-US Representatives Wayne Gilchrest and Bob Inglis)? What if they call out racism in the party?

Something tells me there’s a glass ceiling above this new crowd of diverse Republicans. If any of them step out of line ideologically, they will be bloodied by the shards of that ceiling as it falls on top of them.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 29, 2014

December 1, 2014 Posted by | Diversity, GOP, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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