By Ron Walters
I have to begin this brief review of the 2006 elections with something of a requiem for the fact that the so-called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative passed 56/43 in that state and, as a result, affirmative action will be eliminated for higher education, government contracting and other purposes.
It was a heroic fight waged by the forces of United Michigan and the Black community, where the corporate leaders and major politicians all vowed their support of keeping affirmative action. However, Whites in the states voted to eliminate it by 62 percent and Blacks supported it 86 percent. However, Whites constituted 85 percent of the Michigan electorate and Blacks only 11 percent.
Although there will be subsequent legal action to retain it in light of the Supreme Court decision last year, Ward Connerly will doubtlessly move on to other states such as Georgia to continue to wreak havoc on this version of civil rights protections.
Otherwise, the election was a source of joy with the election of the second Black governor, Deval Patrick in Massachusetts (56 percent to 35 percent), who was supported by virtually every major group in the states. Nevertheless, there was also the anomaly that ballots ran out in the Black community, in a continuing pattern of disfranchisement problems.
Other Blacks who ran for governor were Republicans who did not fare very well. For example, Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania badly lost his bid to defeat Ed Rendell, a popular Democratic incumbent governor with only 13 percent of the Black vote, and Ken Blackwell in Ohio suffered a similar fate, also losing badly to Democrat Ted Strickland. And although Blackwell garnered 20 percent of the Black vote, this was far below his normal level of support that reached 40 percent of the Black vote in previous elections.
In high profile senate races, Harold Ford Jr. lost his bid in Tennessee to Bob Corker, whose racist ad featuring a White woman asking Mr. Ford to come hither was launched when they were running neck-and-neck. But with it, he was able to pull away to victory by evoking the traditional angst of Whites about the relationship between Black males and White women. But because he ran such a superlative campaign, he will doubtless be sought as a regional player in the attempt of Democrats to attract Southern regional appeal in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Republican Michael Steele lost his race for the U.S. Senate from Maryland to Democrat Ben Cardin–in an election that featured extensive concern for the way in which the Black vote would split. In this election, the racial vote was striking, since Whites voted in the majority for Mr. Steele (was well as Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich), but Blacks who constituted 23 percent of the electorate, voted substantially for winning Democratic Senate candidate Ben Cardin 72 percent and gubernatorial candidate Martin O’Malley 84 percent.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus all won re-election and a new member was added to their number from of Minnesota. Keith Ellison (Dist. 5) who will be the only Black Muslim in the U.S. Congress. He won a strong mandate at 56 percent of the vote and will be the focus of attention because of the American policy and actions in the Middle East.
Bill Jefferson’s race was in doubt in Louisiana because of the taint of scandal and the consequent lifting of his committee seat by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. He won 30 percent of the vote, but because he did not capture more than 50 percent, he will have to compete in a Dec. 9 runoff. He will be opposed by State Senator Karen Carter, who won 22 percent and was endorsed by the state Democratic Party. Finally, in Colorado, Angie Paccione (4th Dist.) lost to Musgrave, the incumbent, in a surprisingly close race.
What this means is that the Black vote was absolutely critical to the Democratic sweep in the Senate and House of Representatives. National exit polls showed that Whites voted 51 percent for Democrats, to 47 percent for Republicans. By contrast, Blacks voted 89 percent for Democrats, but only 10 percent in favor of Republicans.
This is testimony to the sophistication of Black voters who not only are aware of their interests and vote accordingly, but who also withstood all of the voter suppression schemes to cast their ballots.
(Ron Walters is the professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park.)