Mid-term election shows race not yet an issue of the past
November 14, 2006
In the recent election, several significant events in black politics flew under the radar.
Former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Deval Patrick was elected as governor of Massachusetts. He will be the second elected black governor in U.S. history, following the 1990 election of Douglas Wilder in Virginia. This was Patrick's first attempt at elective office and he won 56 percent of the vote against three other candidates.
Meanwhile, Minnesota elected the first Muslim to Congress. African-American Democrat Keith Ellison, who converted to Islam while in college, won 56 percent of the vote in a Minneapolis district.
And Anthony Brown, an Iraq war veteran and son of a Jamaican-born father, will become Maryland's next lieutenant governor, having been on the successful Democratic ticket.
But the Patrick race contrasted sharply with the racially charged atmosphere that dominated many other national campaigns, where the GOP either sought to run extremely conservative blacks or defeat black candidates who threatened previously held Republican seats.
Despite the negative ads and dirty tricks, every black Republican candidate running for either Congress or governor was soundly defeated.
In Maryland's Senate race, black GOP candidate Lt. Gov. Michael Steele attempted to hide his Republican pedigree and presented himself as a rapping, street-wise independent soul brother. It was an impossible charade to pull off. He had publicly nominated President Bush at the 2004 Republican convention and been personally persuaded to run by Bush, Bush adviser Karl Rove and other Republican heavy hitters.
In the end, he received only 44 percent of the vote, including about 25 percent of the black vote. During the last days of the campaign, flyers falsely implying that prominent black leaders had endorsed Steele were distributed to apparent little effect.
Steele did much better, however, than his brethren in Ohio and Pennsylvania who ran for gubernatorial seats.
Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the disenfranchiser-in-chief of the 2004 elections in Ohio, won only 37 percent of the vote.
Former footballer Lynn Swann, another black Republican, carried home only 40 percent in Pennsylvania.
In his congressional bid in North Carolina, Vernon Robinson, who referred to himself as the "black Jesse Helms," was crushed with only 36 percent of the vote in that traditionally Republican state.
Perhaps the two most racially ugly events occurred in Tennessee and Michigan.
While the U.S. Senate race between Harold Ford Jr. and his Republican opponent went back and forth, most analysts agree that the "Call me, Harold" ad on television probably was a turning point. The jungle fever issue raised with having a blond white woman in the ad teased out racial ghosts that many in the South know still haunt the region.
In Michigan, to the surprise of many, the anti-affirmative action "Civil Rights Initiative" passed by a large margin of 58 percent to 42 percent. Although the state elected Democrats in key statewide races -- most notably into the governorship and the U.S. Senate -- the controversial bill seemed to go against the Democratic trends across the state.
The misleading title may have led some to believe that they were voting for civil rights rather than against them. In fact, a lawsuit involving the petitions used to get the measure on the ballot found a judge agreeing that many had signed the petition because they were told that it was a bill to stop the state government from violating civil rights.
While a number of African-American candidates were successful in winning statewide offices, this year's mid-term election showed that our nation has still not come to grips with its racial past and present.
Clarence Lusane is assistant professor in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several works, including "Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice: Foreign Policy, Race and the New American Century" (Praeger, 2006). He can be reached at email@example.com.