Diversity in U.S. Senate lacking
Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., was elected to the United States Senate on Oct. 16. He will fill the seat of Frank Lautenberg, who died earlier this year while in office. Booker will be sworn into office on Halloween.
This news is not surprising to anybody who followed the election; according to Reuters, he held an 11 point lead on Election Day. He was the center of an Oscar-nominated documentary called “Street Fight,” and he connects to his constituents by responding to their requests via Twitter.
He has been held responsible for saving a dog that was freezing in sub-zero temperatures, rushing into a burning building to rescue his neighbor and even inviting powerless victims of Hurricane Sandy to his home; “I’ve got space u can relax in, charge devices & even a working DVD player. Come by.”
According to The Daily Beast, nearly 12 people responded to his Twitter invitation. He had lunch delivered for them all.
But an important consideration, not about Booker’s charming personality or political savvy, is the startling fact that, after being sworn in, he will be only one of two black Senators sitting in the U.S.
Senate. In fact, he will be the ninth black senator to ever serve in the Senate, and the fourth to be popularly elected. Barack Obama was the last black man to be elected to the Senate by popular election.
According to the 2010 Census, 12.6 percent of our population is black, and yet, they are represented by only 2 percent of the Senate. Taking this a bit further, 27.6 percent of our population is composed of people of color, that is, non-white individuals.
Just seven senators currently holding office are persons of color. Just over half of all Americans are women, but there are only 20 serving in the Senate.
Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., said, “The Democratic side of the House is a rainbow of colors and ethnicities and religious beliefs. Quite frankly, on the other side, it’s essentially a bunch of white guys,” during his special election.
Perhaps it was not his most eloquent statement, but he has a point — in 2012, 87 percent of the Republican Party in Congress was white. Barber’s statement signifies the stigma and reality of the public’s perception of the Republican Party, especially when Republican-led voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minorities are pushed through state Legislatures.
Remembering that Americans waged a revolution due to a lack of representation in the government, you’d think we’d have learned our lesson.
Booker was a great candidate, and beyond this, has the lawmaking experience necessary to become an effective senator. It should be a priority for both parties to identify experienced candidates of color and skilled women for U.S. Senate races.
A democracy is strongest and most effective when its governing body actually reflects the makeup of the citizenry. Rather than pushing voter ID laws through state legislatures, Republicans should adjust their strategy to win back a percentage of minority voters.
Alienating and further disenfranchising entire populations is not a long-term, sustainable strategy. In fact, it will only ensure Democratic domination in the future.
Our nation’s population is changing. The American political system should be flexible enough to accommodate and welcome these changes. For a nation that has described itself to the world as a “melting pot,” it does not seem to enjoy changes to the recipe.
Congress resists until it is force-fed and inevitably cries when it doesn’t like the taste. My 2-year-old nephew is more accommodating to change than the 113th Congress, and, sadly, this probably does not come as a surprise to most Americans.
Anthony Carli is a political science senior. Follow him @acarli10.