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Dec 9, 2005 5:56 pm


Congress News



As I recently discovered from Ralph Luker, the Washington Post has made available the full services of the Thomas website, which basically has every Congress-related document since 1991 on-line. A similar site, the Century of Lawmaking, similarly has every Congress-related document between 1789 and 1873 on-line. Alas, we continue to wait for Congress to approrpiate funds to fill in the gap between 1873 and 1991. I can't think of any way the institution could more advance the cause of congressional history.

The Post, by the way, has my nominee for the best new blog of 2005--The Fix. Written by former Roll Call reporter Chris Cillizza, it's updated 5-6 times daily during the week, and has the best inside info on congressional politics other than what's available at the expensive Cook and Rothenberg sites.

This morning's Times, meanwhile, has a fascinating piece on the Dem primary for the central Brooklyn congressional district that includes, among other areas, Brooklyn College. The district is around two-thirds black and one-quarter white, with a small percentage of Hispanic voters. The incumbent, an African-American congressman named Major Owens, is retiring this year, and four black Dems quickly jumped into the primary to replace him. They were joined by a white member of the City Council, David Yassky. As the article points out, a considerable number of prominent African-American politicians (and some"progressive" whites) have argued that Yassky shouldn't run for the seat because of his race, since it's critical that majority-minority districts be represented by a minority.

As far as I know, no majority-minority congressional district in the country has been represented by a white congressman once the district passed under black or Hispanic control, and I doubt that, in the end, Yassky will interrupt this trend. (There are famous instances, such as Lindy Boggs in LA and Peter Rodino in NJ, representing majority-black districts that became majority-minority because of redistricting or demographic trends after the member began service.) Nonetheless, the black leaders' complaints would be a little easier to take seriously were it not for the fact that: (a) Owens has been all but inert as a congressman, and it would be tough to argue that the district wouldn't have been better served by a talented white, Asian, or Hispanic over the past 20 years; (b) the leaders are not pressuring any of the African-American candidates to withdraw, even though a black candidate likely would prevail if only one minority rather than four were contesting the primary. Moreover, the line of argument made by some prominent Brooklyn African-Americans--that, as Owens put it, because of his race, Yassky has"has no compatibility with the district"--is a dangerous one. An African-American state senator, Kevin Parker, responded to Owens by noting,"The moment we start indicating that seats are designated as black, white or Latino, we do a disservice to our constituents and society in general."

Indeed, the Owens argument could be used against Jon Corzine's new appointment to the Senate, Robert Menendez. It will be interesting to see how this appointment plays out. Menendez clearly has enormous assets--he's the first Cuban-American Democrat ever to serve in the Senate, is a great fundraiser, and is a talented legislator. But Corzine won in 2005 partly by portraying himself as not tied down by the party bosses--an argument that Menendez, a county party boss himself, can't really make. My sense is that Corzine would have been better served by going with one of the two state politicians he reportedly considered--Nia Gill or Cory Booker. Both are African-American, and therefore would have neutralized complaints from Menendez forces that Corzine had elevated a white over a minority. Yet, unlike Menendez and the other most prominent possibility for the seat (south Jersey congressman Rob Andrews), both had impeccable credentials as good-government reformers.

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Jacob paul segal - 12/10/2005

What? Provocation on a blog? What was I thinking?

Missed your intelligent bit on Bradford, Mr. Luker. I don't always click on "read more."


Ralph E. Luker - 12/9/2005

Mr. Segal, Your sarcasm suggests that you're interested in provocation, not serious discussion, right? As for "the Bradford file," I discussed it here several days ago. It's nice to know that you've caught up with the story by now.


Robert KC Johnson - 12/9/2005

Thanks, made the correction--should have said that he was the first Cuban-American Democrat.


Jacob paul segal - 12/9/2005

When is comrade Johnson going to reopen the Bradford File?

http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051204/COLUMNISTS02/512040470/1006/NEWS01


Christopher Riggs - 12/9/2005

My thanks to Professor Johnson for the information about the online Congressional documents.

He is mistaken, however, in saying that Robert Menendez is the “first Hispanic Democrat ever to serve in the Senate.” Dennis Chavez, a New Mexico Democrat, served in the Senate from 1935 until 1962. As I recall, the biographical sketch that accompanies the guide to his papers at the University of New Mexico states that he was the first U.S.-born Hispanic to serve in the Senate.

In addition, Ken Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado, was elected to the Senate in 2004.

For Chavez, see http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=C000338

For Salazar, see
http://salazar.senate.gov/bio/index.html

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