WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–The aftermath of the stunning nationwide sweep for Republicans on Election Day 2002 may open the door for harsh government retrenchment, new legislative initiatives favoring the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class, little hope for relief in the federal court system, and even more political isolation of Blacks and their allies in the Democratic Party.
That, according to both prominent Democrats licking their wounds, and energized Black conservatives savoring their gains, who spoke shortly after the final results were known.
The White House claimed that the unprecedented, across-the-board mid-term election victories in which Republicans reclaimed a majority in the Senate and widened their lead over Democrats in the House gives President George W. Bush–who tirelessly campaigned from coast to coast–a mandate to govern. He lacked such a mandate after the Supreme Court-decided the 2000 presidential election, observers said.
In his first public comments after the voting, the president insisted that the current Congress take action on legislation to create a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security; he proposed tax cuts early next year; put his proposal for the partial privatization of Social Security back on the table; and he urged the Senate to reconsider previously rejected judicial nominees.
“It’s imperative that the Congress send me a bill that I can sign before the 107th Congress ends,” Mr. Bush said of the homeland security bill pending before the “lame duck” congressional session scheduled to begin after Veteran’s Day. That legislation, he said, is “the most important thing to get done.”
“We had an election in which, for the first time in memory, the Republicans are in control of all of the federal systems: the legislature, the executive branch and by extension, the judiciary as well,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee told reporters Nov. 8.
Although the country is still closely divided after Election 2002 races, by changing only a couple of members in the House and Senate, the balance of power has tipped decidedly in Mr. Bush’s favor, Mr. Conyers said. The effect of those changes may be major on the lives of Blacks, have-nots in the society, and even the middle class, he said.
“Have you seen the list of judicial candidates?” Mr. Conyers asked rhetorically in response to a question from The Final Call. “They’re bringing out everybody that we thought we’d gotten rid of; they’re lining them back up again. Affirmative action, if Bush can pronounce the term, is in big trouble. There is literally no moderate Republican wing in the Congress at this point.”
In addition, he warned, Republicans will now chip away at regulations that have protected the poor, the environment, and individuals against the power of the state.
Even though more Americans support Democrats than Republicans, Mr. Conyers admitted that his party failed to energize its base, Black voters, its most loyal constituency.
“We couldn’t get our issues out there, which, in my view, are clearly the majority view of most people. Let’s get the corporate crooks; let’s rollback the tax giveaways to the wealthy; let’s do something about unemployment compensation, prescription drugs. It didn’t get out. It didn’t resonate enough.
“When all the smoke is done, there are more Democrats that vote in the U.S.A. than there are anybody else, but they have to be organized and they have to be motivated. That we didn’t do such a good job on,” during 2002 balloting, he conceded.
Jubilant Black conservatives agree wholeheartedly with that assessment of the unsuccessful election strategy employed by the Democrats. “The Democratic Party’s method of motivating Black voters is bankrupt,” Alvin Williams, co-founder of Black America’s Political Action Committee (BAMPAC) told a forum the morning after the election.
BAMPAC strategists criticized the timeworn liberal tactic of trying to frighten Blacks into voting against Republican candidates, as well as the equally unimaginative Republican “rainy day” strategy of hoping for bad weather to depress Black voter turnout.
The GOP actively sought Black votes in at least two high profile governor’s races. New York was one well-run campaign. There, the inside political joke, according to former GOP activist Faye Anderson was that incumbent Gov. George Pataki literally “spent more time campaigning in Harlem” than his Black opponent, State Treasurer Carl McCall.
The other especially smart campaign, according to BAMPAC analysts, was in Maryland, where conservative House-member Bob Ehrlich overcame a sizeable early-campaign lead held by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in part because he named Black financier Michael Steele as his running mate. (See related story on page 10.)
Democrats counter that Mrs. Townsend doomed her own campaign by naming a White, male, Republican, retired military leader who switched parties just to be her running mate, instead of one of several qualified Black Democrats in the state.
Polling data support the Democratic interpretation, because Mr. Ehrlich only garnered 11 percent of the Black vote statewide. But his tactic and Mrs. Townsend’s blunder suggest another possible benefit to the GOP: the prospect of having the first Black lieutenant governor may have calmed the jitters of some Black voters who simply stayed home on election day.
“Republicans did indeed need” Black votes, Ms. Anderson told The Final Call. “They needed Blacks to stay home. There’s no way Republicans would have won in Georgia, Missouri, Maryland, North Carolina, if Blacks had turned out. So the Black vote is more critical than ever.”
In Georgia, where Republican party-switching defeated Democratic House incumbent Cynthia McKinney in her primary contest against former municipal judge Denise Majette last summer, two high profile White Democrats–Sen. Max Cleland and Gov. Roy Barnes–also lost to Republicans in historic race-tinged races on Nov. 5.
In Missouri, Democrat Jean Carnahan did not hold on to the seat she inherited when her dead husband defeated then-incumbent and now-Attorney General John Ashcroft in the 2000 election. And in North Carolina, former Reagan cabinet appointee Elizabeth Dole claimed the seat of retiring Sen. Jesse Helms for the GOP by defeating former Clinton adviser Erskine Bowles.
In the other high-profile statewide race of interest to Blacks, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, was defeated for an open Senate seat by Texas Attorney General John Cornyn. Meanwhile Democrat Tony Sanchez, the other member of the historic minority “Dream Team” for the state’s top offices, was soundly defeated by Republican Rick Perry.
There was one positive national electoral development. There will be four new members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Democrat David Scott defeated Republican Clay Cox for Georgia’s newly re-apportioned 13th District seat adding one more Black Democrat to the House and to the CBC, bringing the CBC to 39 members. In addition, Kendrick Meek will succeed his mother, Rep. Carrie Meek, who retired; Artur Davis will replace Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) whom he defeated in a primary this summer; and Ms. Majette will replace Rep. McKinney.
“There are a lot of (good) things that happened, if I lift myself out of my tears,” Rep. Conyers joked to reporters in response to a question from The Final Call. But overall Democrats had little to cheer about, and Black political leaders face the distinct possibility of being rendered “irrelevant” by the election results, the less than energetic Black turnout, and by the fact that the George Bush-led Republicans did not need Black support to win their clean sweep.
“I think to say irrelevant would be strong,” BAMPAC board member and former GOP congressional candidate Sophia Nelson told The Final Call about the future impact of the Black vote. “Wounded severely,” she continued, “the Black vote, African American political power … we are definitely in a deficit position. We are in a marginalized position.
“I think what has to happen (is that) we need really some kind of national discussion of some kind, and these so-called leaders, whether on the Republican side or the Democratic side need to step out of the way and we need to really take a check of self, politically, socially and economically. This is a turning point for us.
“We need to either make a decision that we’re either going to be independents thus making the Democrats and Republicans have to vie for us as a swing vote. Or, if we’re going to continue to participate in the Democrat Party in the way that we are, we have to make some demands.”
Black voters, she said, need to tell the White Democratic Party leadership: “look, we’re giving you 70 (to) 80 percent of the vote that you can count on, on a bad day, a rainy day with depressed turnout. We need to have candidates at the top of the ticket. We need to be getting resources. We need to be appointed in top spots.” But Black Democrats she insists are “not making demands.”
Mr. Conyers agrees. Democrats, he said, “didn’t do enough with the African American communities in a number of districts. Democrats, you’ve got to deal with your base. The biggest, most faithful, loyal, largest consistent base you’ve got are the African American voters. You can’t run out and throw a few ads on Black radio three weeks before the election and write a few ministers some letters and say, ‘See that? Okay now Conyers?’ “
Black liberals must also change their strategy regarding the White House, Ms. Nelson insisted. Black Democrats, including the Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who hails from the president’s home state, “need to back off this posture that they’ve taken. They need to go sit down and have a dialogue with him, a very constructive dialogue that says: ‘Okay you beat us. We want to be at the table. What do we need to do to work with you so that African American voices are heard?’ ” Mr. Bush, Ms. Nelson says, is “a reasonable man. They don’t have to agree with him, but he is the president of the United States, and they need to say: ‘Look, we want to work with you.’ “
“So, I don’t think we’re irrelevant, but I think we’re in trouble,” said Ms. Nelson. “The Hispanics are going to quickly replace us if we don’t watch ourselves.”