Minorities In Congress Essay

This essay has a total of 4296 words and 18 pages.

Minorities In Congress

Introduction
In forming a government for the people, by the people, and of the people, our Founding
Fathers developed the idea a bi-cameral legislature. This Congress, composed of the House
of Representatives and Senate, thus became known as the people's branch of government.
American children are taught in schools that anyone can be elected to Congress, so long as
they meet the qualifications of the Constitution. So long as you meet the age and
residency requirements you are indeed qualified to be a candidate for Congress.

If we take a more in-depth look at the composition of Congress we see a body
disproportionate with its Nation. Congress has maintained a fairly homogenous make-up
since its founding even into the year 2001. This conclusion raises no eye brows as both
the executive and judicial branches of government have also maintained a very white, male,
Protestant resemblance. However, Congress was formed for a distinct purpose: to represent
the people of the United States of America. The melting pot of America's huddled masses
has been slow in placing leaders that truly represent its demographics.

There are a number of simple and complex reasons as to why this under-representation of
minorities has occurred. Who is the real minority in Congress? This is not a simple
partisan question, though it seems partisanship is a factor. An examination of the
composition of the current, 107th Congress will lend greater light on where Congress
stands as a representative body. A quick laundry list of the minorities in the United
States being under-represented might read as such: African-Americans, Women, Black Women,
Hispanics, Gays and Lesbians, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, Indians (Native
Americans). All of the above groups have a unique history in struggling for greater
representation. We now examine some of those histories in trying to answer why America's
Congress does not look like America's people.

While Voting Rights legislation had a great impact on changing the composition of
Congress, other factors exist as barriers to minority representation in Congress. One of
these is the use of single-member districts. Of great debate as to whether it is helping
or hindering minority candidates is the establishment of minority districting and the use
of racial gerrymandering. The question of constitutionality and these districts has come
before the Supreme Court with mixed results.

Congress Today
How much progress have we made? The 2000 elections introduced the 107th Congress. While
the body has diversified, the U.S. Congress remains a largely white male institution.
Currently, there are no black or Hispanic senators. Nine percent of House members are
black and four percent are Hispanic. For comparison, Blacks comprise thirteen percent of
the U.S. population and Hispanics twelve percent.

Women historically fare better, particularly in the Senate where they now hold thirteen
seats, the most seats in history. The 435-member House has 59 women members, up slightly
from the 56 of the 106th Congress. These numbers translate to approximately a fourteen
percent membership for women in the House of Representatives. While women have gained
seats in Congress, this thirteen/fourteen percent composition is lacking considering women
make up about half the population.

As society becomes more "minority-aware" a focus has turned on a sections of the
population previously hidden or unheard. Three House members are openly gay, and two
lawmakers, Senator Max Cleland, and freshman Representative Jim Langevin, both democrats,
use wheelchairs. These numbers indicate today's Congressional members are overwhelmingly
able-bodied and heterosexual.

The Senate is prone to even less diversity with 2001 seeing no change in its minority
composition. The Senate's fair-skinned minority population stayed at three: Hawaii's
Daniel Akaka, a native Hawaiian; Daniel Inouye, an American of Japanese descent; and
Colorado's Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Native American of the Northern Cheyenne tribe.

While the Congress of today is not proportionally representative of its people, it has
vastly improved over the history of the United States. Each minority group seeking equal
representation has had a history of struggle. While some minorities such as Black
Americans and women have had notable records in Congress, Hispanics and even more so Asian
Pacific Americans, Gays and Lesbians, and American Indians are still more the exception
than the rule on the hill.

Blacks in Congress
During the Reconstruction period, blacks wielded political power in the South for the
first time. Their leaders were largely clergymen, lawyers, and teachers who had been
educated in the North and abroad. Among the ablest were Robert B. Elliott of South
Carolina and John R. Lynch of Mississippi. Both were speakers of their state House of
Representatives and were members of the United States Congress. Between 1869 and 1901, 20
black representatives and 2 black senators, Hiram R. Revels and Blanche K. Bruce of
Mississippi, sat in the United States Congress.

However, black political power was short-lived. Northern politicians grew increasingly
conciliatory to the white South, so that by 1872 virtually all leaders of the Confederacy
had been pardoned and were able to vote and hold office. Blacks were disenfranchised by
the provisions of new state constitutions (such as those adopted by Mississippi in 1890
and by South Carolina and Louisiana in 1895). Only a few Southern black elected officials
lingered on. No black was to serve in the United States Congress for three decades after
the departure of George H. White of North Carolina in 1901. In 1928, Black Americans would
see a "second wave" of African-Americans enter the picture. Oscar DePriest, a Republican
was elected from an inner city Chicago district. In 1934 he was defeated by Arthur
Mitchell who was then the first black Democrat elected to Congress. A decade later, Adam
Clayton Powell Jr. would be elected to Congress, marking the first time since 1891 there
was more than one black representative in the House. A breakthrough would come in 1950 as
Dawson became the first black to chair a standing committee, the Government Operations
Committee. Following the Voting Rights Act of 1965 black Americans continued to see an
increase in political representation.

The Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress in 1965. In 1957 and 1960 Congress had passed
laws to protect the rights of black voters, and the 24th amendment (1964) banned the use
of poll taxes in federal elections. In March 1965 Martin Luther King, Jr., led a march
from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to dramatize the voting issue. Immediately after the
march, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a voting rights bill to Congress, and it was
quickly passed.

The Voting Rights Act authorized the U.S. attorney general to send federal examiners to
register black voters under certain circumstances. It also suspended all literacy tests in
states in which less than 50% of the voting-age population had been registered or had
voted in the 1964 election. By the end of 1965 a quarter of a million new black voters had
been registered, one third by federal examiners. In 1982, the Voting Rights Act was
amended to include provisions requiring certain jurisdictions to take steps to give
minority voters an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Subsequently, this
change would lead to greater black representation. While black men had been enjoying
increased representation in Congress, black women and women in general have failed to come
near a proportional representation in Congress.

Women in Congress
The 1992 elections were marked as the "Year of the Woman" due to the nearly doubled
numbers of women in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, women's membership nearly
tripled. The struggle for women "climbing the hill" has been a long one, preceding even
the woman's right to vote in 1920.

Women who did become member of Congress early on were often seen as tokens, who would fill
the remaining term left by their husbands. In 1916, Republican Jeanette Rankin became the
first women ever elected to Congress. Rankin's fight for suffrage would pave the road for
other women to be elected to Congress. During Rankin's 27 years in Congress, 32 other
women were successful in their bids for the House and Senate.

During FDR's 13 years as President, 23 women joined Congress. Margaret Chase Smith was the
first Republican female senator, the first woman to win election to both houses and the
first to be elected to the Senate without having been appointed to fill a vacancy. The
years between 1946 and 1960 saw 27 women join Congress. The Equal Pay Act and Equal Rights
Amendment would gain momentum as more women weighed in on legislation. While women in
Congress fought for many issues facing female Americans, most thought it would hurt their
bids for re-election. In 1962, the total for women in Congress would reach a high of 20,
only to dwindle to 11 in 1969. Black women were not making the same representational
strides as their white counterparts. It wasn't until 1968 when Shirley Chisholm of New
York won a seat in the House that African American women were represented in Congress. As
black candidates had a second wave, women enjoyed a "second win" in their run for
Congress. After the harsh losses through the 1960's, women's hope for Congressional office
was on the rise. From 1970 through 1988, 52 nonincumbent women won election to Congress.
It was during this climb in membership Americans would see a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, run
for the Vice-Presidency on a major party ticket. Representative Ferraro's candidacy in
1984 would call attention to women as able political leaders and lend even greater
momentum to women candidates as the 90's approached.

Just as African-American women were latecomers to legislative roles, Hispanic women would
not be elected to Congress until 1991 with the election of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.
In 1992, Carol Braun would be the first African American woman elected to the Senate. In
fact, 1992 was indeed heralded as "the year of the woman."

Before the 1992 elections, women comprised only 6 percent of Congress. While women
remained a minority after the 1992 election, a record number of women ran for Congress
successfully. Moreover, women had after the 1992 elections become leaders within the
legislature. The census of 1990 was cited as the most important variable in the change of
women in Congress. A large number of open seats resulting from redistricting and vacancies
from retiring officeholders gave women augmented opportunities. The domestic agenda of
then candidate Bill Clinton also turned national spotlight on many womens issues. On a
more controversial note, the Anita Hill testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence
Thomas brought the low numbers of women in Congress under scrutiny.

While women did not lose seats in 1994, the "year of the woman" had definitely come and
gone - due in part to the Republican takeover in Congress. The elections of 1994 and 1996
held women steady at approximately 11 percent of the House and 9 percent of the Senate.

While blacks and women have gained prominence in Congress, greater minorities in the House
and Senate still exist in the Hispanic, Asian, Indian (Native American) and Gay and
Lesbian communities.

Hispanic Americans in Congress
In 1936, Democrat Dennis Chavez became the first Hispanic to serve a full term in the U.S.
Senate, following two terms as a Representative. He served continuously until his death in
1962. Throughout his career, Chavez fought discrimination against Hispanics, and in 1944
campaigned for the establishment of a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to
prohibit all racial or ethnic bias in the workplace.

Since 1960 more Hispanics have been elected to Congress than in the previous 140 years.
This change reflects the increase in the Hispanic population, the strength of Hispanic
groups and grass-roots organizations, and the wider participation of voters following the
passage of the Voting Rights Act. In 1976, five Hispanic members of Congress formed the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus to address the needs of Hispanics. The Hispanic Caucus
worked for greater attention to urban housing and education stressing the need for
bilingual programs.

The 1980's saw the expansion of Hispanic participation in state delegations. In 1989,
Florida elected to Congress its first Hispanic Representative in 166 years, Republican
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen She is the first Cuban-American and, as previously mentioned, the
first Hispanic woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.

In 1970 Congress enacted the Legislative Reorganization Act amending Rule XII of the U.S.
House of Representatives ("Resident Commissioner and Delegates") allowing the Resident
Commissioner to serve and vote on standing committees. In 1973 this law was extended to
the Delegates from Guam and the Virgin Islands.

The 103rd Congress amended Rule XII of the House of Representatives ("Resident
Commissioner and Delegates") in 1993 to permit the Resident Commissioner to the United
States from Puerto Rico, and the Delegates from the District of Columbia, and the
Territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands to vote in the Committee of
the Whole. In the 104th Congress, the House reamended that rule and stripped the Resident
Commissioner and the Delegates of the right to vote in the Committee of the Whole.

During the first half of the 1990's, the number of Hispanic Members increased due in part
to substantial growth in the Hispanic population of many states throughout the nation. In
1990 Arizona sent Democrat Ed Pastor to the U.S. House of Representatives as its first
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