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In the game of politics, the axiom is, You win some, you lose some. And during the November elections, African American Democrats and Republicans did a little of both. Once the dust settled, the GOP maintained its tightly held majority in the House, but the margin is now slimmer due to a Democratic gain of nine seats.
Meanwhile, the chairmanships of some of the more powerful House committees, such as Ways & Means and the Judiciary, eluded the grasp of African American legislators. However, the results do appear to illustrate the electorate’s thirst for a more bipartisan government, one that will focus on issues–rather than ideological warfare.
“The Republicans took a whipping even though they did win the majority,” says Charles B. Rangel (D-New York), the ranking Democratic member of the House Ways & Means Committee. “I hope they understand that government has to be conducted in a more civil way.”
The balance of power in Washington has shifted decidedly toward the center, but how well the two parties will work together this time remains to be seen. “Because the margin is so small, some bipartisanship will be required for anything to get done,” says David Bositis, political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “It will also depend on how aggressive conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans are in asserting their leadership from the center.”
That said, Bositis also believes that with the line-item veto, Clinton and other Democrats will enjoy some leverage they didn’t have before. The President can now strike specific items from spending bills, along with new entitlement programs and special-interest tax breaks.
Several new faces replaced outgoing members of the Congressional Black Caucus. These new Democrats in Congress include Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee and Michigan’s Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick; they won decisively in their bids to succeed Cardiss Collins, Harold Ford Sr. and Barbara Rose Collins, respectively. Another newcomer, Julia M. Carson, from Indianapolis, won in an overwhelmingly white district with a black voting population of only 27%. “Her win is very impressive,” notes Bositis, adding that “it’s clear she got her voters out, which is something she’s known for.”
Impressive showings in majority congressional districts also included Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas and Cynthia McKinney and Sandford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia. They all won their redrawn districts with more than 50% of the vote.
A notable loss was Connecticut’s Gary A. Franks, the only black Republican member of the CBC. “He got caught up in being a national political figure because he was one of only two black Republicans,” Bositis explains. As a result, Franks’ working-class constituents, who felt he’d lost touch with their needs, voted him out of office. Joe Rogers, the Republican from Colorado who sought to replace retiring Democratic congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, also lost his bid. That leaves Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts, who has always claimed that he doesn’t want to be the poster boy for black Republicans, as the only African American on that side
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