An Imbalance in the Legislatures

With Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act coming up for renewal in 2007, political groups everywhere are already getting worked up over the prospect that it will not be renewed. (Hint: There is no doubt it will be renewed because anyone who votes otherwise will be tarred and feathered as a segregationist racist and run out of town) Until Section 5 is reauthorized, expect all sorts of groups to use the prospect of it not getting renewed to scare minorities and lefties into giving lots of money to lefty groups.

Today we are met with a humorous study by the Institute on Money in State Politics (“IMSP”), a non-partisan group funded by liberal organizations like the Ford Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts. You won’t be surprised to learn that IMSP is a fan of campaign finance reform. Today’s study looks at the gap between minorities and political office. The study is here.

In this report, the Institute on Money in State Politics looks at the members of state legislatures that convened in 2003 and analyzes both the racial and ethnic makeup of the legislatures and the fund-raising experience of minorities who gained office. The Institute hopes the research may produce the empirical evidence needed to inform public debate around reauthorization of sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, scheduled to sunset in 2007. Empirical evidence is needed to show how disproportional representation in state legislatures’ ethnic and racial diversity may be linked to candidate success or failure in raising campaign funds.

The report decries the fact that though white people are 69.1% of the population, white people are 88.7% of the total legislators in all state legislatures combined in 2003.

The national statistics show universal and systemic differences that cannot be dismissed as the result of local politics or individual personalities. Nor does the convenient explanation that minority candidates run for “safe” seats explain the gap between the amounts of money that white candidates and minority candidates raise.

While the report does not say so, it certainly goes down the liberals’ favorite path of government funded elections (not to mention shadows of affirmative action). At the same time it leaves unanswered the question “why?”

Why should state legislatures specifically reflect state racial demographics? The report also does not (and really cannot) make a determination of whether a losing candidate might have lost over qualifications, not skin color. And the report does not contemplate the other side of Section 5 — by requiring states to carve out minority districts, minority numbers are diluted in non-minority districts — something that has in the past been cited for the Republican take over in 1994.

Lefties will no doubt decry the findings as an injustice. Myself? I can only see that there is a gap between state racial demographics and state legislative racial demographics, which tells me nothing substantive as to the cause, the effect, or the remedy. Perhaps if IMSP had been willing to go the next step and make full pronouncements on the why, the how, and a suggested remedy, everyone would be in a better position to digest the data and conclusions. Unfortunately, based on the way the data is presented and the opinions in the executive summary, I’m left with the nagging feeling that had IMSP offered answers to the why, the how, and an IMSP favored remedy, they would have laid too many of their cards on the table — cards that would reveal them to really be in favor of government subsidized elections and possibly affirmative action in the legislative process through an expansion of Section 5 to require more states to carve out districts specifically for underrepresented minorities.

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Erick Erickson

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