States of strug­gle for mi­nor­ity hope­fuls

10 have elected only whites to statewide non­ju­di­cial of­fices

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Sum­mer Bal­len­tine

JEF­FER­SON CITY, Mo. — Nearly two cen­turies af­ter Mis­souri gained state­hood as part of a com­pro­mise over slave own­er­ship, no black can­di­date has ever won a statewide elec­tion there — a bar­rier Robin Smith is try­ing to over­come but sel­dom dis­cusses pub­licly.

Mis­souri is one of 10 states since Re­con­struc­tion where only white can­di­dates have won con­tests for pres­i­dent, sen­a­tor, gover­nor and other non­ju­di­cial of­fices elected statewide, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The other states are Alabama, Ar­kan­sas, Ne­braska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ten­nessee, West Vir­ginia, Wy­oming and Mis­sis­sippi, which had the na­tion’s first two black se­na­tors in the 1870s when those seats were cho­sen by legislators rather than pop­u­larly elected.

Just mak­ing it to the gen­eral elec­tion puts Smith, the Demo­cratic can­di­date for Mis­souri’s sec­re­tary of state, in rare po­lit­i­cal com­pany. The only pre­vi­ous mi­nor­ity can­di­date to have won a ma­jor party’s nom­i­na­tion for statewide of­fice in Mis­souri was Alan Wheat — a black for­mer Demo­cratic con­gress­man from Kansas City who lost the 1994 Se­nate race to for­mer Repub­li­can Gov. John Ashcroft.

Ashcroft’s son, Jay Ashcroft, is run­ning against Smith.

“Race never came up, so I brought it up,” Wheat said of his cam­paign. “I knew it was on peo­ple’s minds, and I wanted to openly dis­cuss it so that any ques­tions peo­ple had about it could be an­swered and sat­is­fied.”

Smith, a long­time TV Alan Wheat, sec­ond from left, got an as­sist from Bill Clin­ton in 1994 in his bid to rep­re­sent Mis­souri in the U.S. Se­nate. news reporter and an­chor in St. Louis, has taken a more re­served ap­proach. Although she spoke gen­er­ally about mak­ing the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem more in­clu­sive, she fre­quently changed the sub­ject when asked about the his­tor­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions of her cam­paign. Cam­paign man­ager Kirk Clay said she does not talk about race on the cam­paign trail ei­ther.

Smith and West Vir­ginia au­di­tor can­di­date Mary Ann Clay­tor are the only black can­di­dates for statewide of­fice who will ap­pear on the bal­lot this Novem­ber as ma­jor party nom­i­nees in the 10 states where no mi­nor­ity has ever won such a race. Four Amer­i­can In­dian can­di­dates are run­ning for statewide of­fice in the Dako­tas. All are Democrats.

Statewide posts aren’t the only elected po­si­tions in which mi­nor­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tion has lagged. An AP anal­y­sis pub­lished in June found non-His­panic whites make up a lit­tle over 60 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion but hold more than 80 per­cent of all con­gres­sional and state leg­isla­tive seats.

Mark Sawyer, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Race, Eth­nic­ity and Pol­i­tics at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los Angeles, said progress for mi­nori­ties on the statewide level has stalled since a wave of mod­er­ate, black of­fi­cials was elected in the 1980s.

While statewide elected of­fi­cials of­ten climb the po­lit­i­cal lad­der af­ter first get­ting elected to lo­cal of­fices, Sawyer said white can­di­dates are more likely than mi­nori­ties to fol­low that pipe­line. Mi­nor­ity can­di­dates have en­joyed more suc­cess in lo­cal elec­tions in ar­eas with large num­bers of black or His­panic res­i­dents, he said, and those of­fices don’t al­ways of­fer a clear tran­si­tion to a statewide job.

Ar­tur Davis, a black for­mer four-term con­gress­man in Alabama, said race was a “con­tin­ual fac­tor” in his un­suc­cess­ful bid to win the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for gover­nor in 2010. Davis said he con­sid­ered it “coded” lan­guage when his op­po­nent and others sug­gested he couldn’t win statewide in Alabama, where more than a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion is black.

“It’s very chal­leng­ing to go from rep­re­sent­ing a pri­mar­ily African-Amer­i­can dis­trict to a statewide en­vi­ron­ment in the South,” Davis said. “Once you be­come iden­ti­fied or tabbed po­lit­i­cally as a spokesper­son for a race, it ob­vi­ously be­comes very dif­fi­cult to broaden your po­lit­i­cal ap­peal be­yond that race.”

Other hur­dles cited by can­di­dates, po­lit­i­cal scien- tists and other ex­perts in­clude the ex­pense of run­ning for of­fice, mi­nor­ity can­di­dates’ ten­dency to run as Democrats even in strongly Repub­li­can-lean­ing states and the lack of mi­nori­ties in elected of­fice who could help others break into pol­i­tics.

Be­yond the 10 states that have never elected a mi­nor­ity in a non­ju­di­cial statewide race, six others had been in­cluded on the list be­fore back­ing Barack Obama for pres­i­dent — Iowa, Maine, Min­nesota, New Hampshire, Penn­syl­va­nia and Wis­con­sin.

There is no of­fi­cial list of mi­nor­ity of­fice­hold­ers or can­di­dates be­cause most states don’t track by race, and even the def­i­ni­tion of mi­nor­ity can vary. For ex­am­ple, South Dakota pre­vi­ously elected two Le­banese-Amer­i­can can­di­dates as U.S. se­na­tors. The U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau cur­rently clas­si­fies those of Mid­dle Eastern and North African de­scent as white rather than mi­nori­ties, and the Se­nate’s web­site doesn’t in­clude them on its list of mi­nori­ties to serve in the cham­ber.

Of the states where vot­ers have elected mi­nor­ity can­di­dates to statewide of­fice, sev­eral picked lieu­tenant gov­er­nors who ran on a ticket with a white can­di­date. Ken­tucky only last year elected its first black can­di­date to statewide of­fice. That was Repub­li­can Lt. Gov. Je­nean Hamp­ton, who ran with Gov. Matt Bevin.

Clay­tor, the au­di­tor can­di­date in West Vir­ginia, said there’s “prob­a­bly al­ways a chance” some vot­ers might not pick her be­cause of her race. But she said she was ac­cepted while work­ing in the au­di­tor’s of­fice and now is stress­ing that vot­ers should choose based on can­di­dates’ qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

In 2008, Denise Juneau be­came the first Amer­i­can In­dian wo­man in the na­tion elected to statewide of­fice when she won her cam­paign for Montana su­per­in­ten­dent of pub­lic in­struc­tion. Juneau, who is now run­ning for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat, said the coun­try has a long way to go be­fore the mi­nori­ties in pub­lic of­fice are re­flec­tive of the pop­u­la­tion.

But she said it’s im­por­tant that mi­nor­ity can­di­dates break bar­ri­ers.



Robin Smith aims to over­come a bar­rier in Mis­souri.

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