Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Senate needs Mo Cowan, mo’ African Americans

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Someday, you can tell your grandchildren that you were alive when the Senate first had two African-Americans at the same time. Hopefully, your grandchildren will find that strange, since the Senate would be full of African-Americans.

U.S. senators of Hispanic descent haven’t had much trouble getting elected. Women also have an easy time getting in, though not nearly at the level that they exist in the real world. But having African-Americans in the Senate is still a gigantic hurdle.

When conservatives point out that black people have made it because Barack Obama was elected president, now twice, the United States has only had three elected African-American senators.

Mo Cowan is the newest senator, being appointed by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (one of two total elected black state governors) to replace John Kerry, the new Secretary of State.

Cowan joins Tim Scott, appointed by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to replace Jim DeMint. Cowan will have a short stay in the Senate with the special election to fill the remainder of Kerry’s seat on June 25. Scott gets to stay at least until 2014, though Scott is likely to run again to keep the seat.

The only other African American to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was one of the three elected senators. Edward Brooke held the seat as a Republican from 1967-1979. Our current president, Barack Obama, is one of the three to be elected. Carol Moseley Braun is the other elected senator, representing Illinois from 1993-1999.

Scott and Cowan join Roland Burris (D-IL) as appointed senators since Reconstruction.

The common political adage is that African Americans can win local races but not statewide races. After all, the Congressional Black Caucus proves that African-Americans can get elected to the House. Interestingly, Scott is the only one on the list who has served in the House of Representatives. Often, senators get elected out of the House.

3 elected senators, 2 elected governors — this isn’t progress. Appointing senators gives the power of incumbency, which can lead to re-election. Burris had no chance of winning re-election and Cowan is trapped in a scenario where running for the election isn’t viable.

Scott has a chance to be elected to his seat; if that happens and no other African Americans run and win in 2014, then he will be the fourth elected senator and the second Republican.

Obama became president by serving less than a term in the U.S. Senate, an unusual path regardless of race. Governors and senators run for president, yet very few of them are African American. At this pace, we’ll look back fondly on the just past Inauguration. We just saw the re-election of America’s first black president. It will be awhile before we see that again. maybe our grandchildren will tell a different story.


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