Thursday, July 11, 2013

Declining Black Political Power in the U.S. South?

The New York Times reported yesterday that black political power appears to be in decline in the U.S. South.

While African Americans are serving as congresspeople or senators in southern state legislatures in record numbers, 313 in total according to the Times, the power these elected officials enjoy appears to be waning.
"David A. Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in a 2011 paper, “Resegregation in Southern Politics?”...charts growing Republican strength in the South...before the 1994 election, only one out of 202 black elected officials in Southern legislatures was in the minority party. After the 1994 contest, the number of Southern blacks in the minority party grew to 46 out of 260. In the aftermath of the 2010-11 elections, the proportion of Southern blacks serving in the majority – that is, the party controlling the state legislature — dropped to just 15 out of 313. In less than 20 years, the percentage of black legislators in the South serving in the majority fell from 99.5 percent to 4.8 percent."

So, in short, new legislation aimed at increasing requirements for voting alongside recently re-drawn  congressional districts have led most African American state representatives, most of whom are democrats, to serve in the minority party.  In some cases, as with Tennessee, supermajorities in the house and senate enable lawmakers in the majority party to suspend rules - which means legislation can be passed through the house and the senate without debate.

Yet The Atlantic reported in late June that the electoral landscape in the South might be changing quickly to favor African Americans, Latinos, and, potentially, the Democratic party.  
"Tupelo got its first Democratic mayor in nearly 30 years, a 37-year-old trial lawyer. Meridian got its first black mayor ever. Ocean Springs' Democratic incumbent won a third term to preside over an all-Republican board of aldermen. Mississippi Democrats proclaimed it 'Blue Tuesday.'

'It's been a long time coming,' Percy Bland, the 42-year-old mayor-elect of Meridian, told me. 'We haven't had a Democratic mayor in Meridian since '76. And we won it running away, when people thought it would be very close.'"
The Times seems to acknowledge both realities - that demographics are shifting in the south, and that the recent strategy among Republican lawmakers has been successful:
"What stands out, looking at the data, is how effective, in purely political terms, the Republican’s “white” strategy has turned out to be at the state level. Nationally, the party is enmeshed in an often bitter debate between those who argue that future success lies in building margins and turnout rates among whites, making little effort to woo minorities — or in fact actively scorning them; and those, on the other hand, who believe that this strategy can no longer work as the population of minority voters grows."
In the meantime, as legislatures across the south remain hegemonic, the recent Moral Monday demonstrations in North Carolina may prove to be a tool used more frequently across the U.S. South to influence the direction of public policy.  Sixty-four more protestors were arrested in Raleigh-Durham this past Monday.

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