*The last rounds of federal redistricting posed some intriguing dilemmas around the country for both Congressional incumbents and shifting constituent demographies. California was in the grave position of having no net gains in Congressional seats since the national census have been kept, despite a statewide population growth of nearly seven million from the previous census count in 2000.
Seats shifts to Central and Northern California, and as a result—districts had to be collapsed (combined) in Southern California. One such district was the merging of Congresswoman Laura Richardson’s 37th Congressional district with Congresswoman Janice Hahn’s 36th Congressional district for a newly created 44th Congressional District in the South Bay portion of the Region. It is a scenario whereby two incumbents are running against each other. Only one can win. The other is odd woman out. Both have their supporters and detractors, like in any campaign. Neither have a natural claim to the seat as both will end up representing new constituents and part of old constituency bases.
A troubling scenario has evidenced itself in this race, however. The potential loss of African American Congressional representation. It’s an issue people are talking about, but afraid to raise. The evaporation of African American political leadership is not something to be taken in such a causal or caviler manner. The struggle to keep four African American Congresspersons has been a long one. There’s only one in all of Northern California. Southern California has three now but for decades, there was only one, Gus Hawkins—and he looked white. The 1980s census, and a federal lawsuit against historical racial gerrymandering produced the second seat, and the 1990s census produced the potential for the third seat, which was secured by the late Juanita Millander McDonald, and was preserved in the 2000 census. While there has been a demography shift over the past thirty years in communities where blacks used to live, the political empowerment has held as an important stable in diversity politics in Congress.
None of the current African American congresswoman represent majority African American districts but black representation in Congress is too difficult to come by. Nobody wants to raise it because of fear of being said to have played “the race card.” Will somebody PLEEAASEE tell me what the “race card” is? Other than a tactic to get people to stop talking about race altogether while racism recasts itself. America got “race fatigue” but seemed to never have gotten racism fatigue…and it has worked. People have stopped talking about race. And only whisper about racism when it occurs in its most obvious forms. The collapsing of Richardson’s and Hahn’s district was not about race or racism. The same thing is happening across town with Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, two well-entrenched politicos who have fallen victim to the same redistricting process. It’s not about race, religion or national origin. It’s just political reality. So, why raise the black empowerment aspect? Because it appears that games are being played with the seat in the African American community. People don’t want to raise that either.
Well, I’m raising it. First, in full disclosure, BOTH Laura Richardson and Janice Hahn are friends. I’ve known Janice longer—almost 25 years since our infamous meeting with her appointment as the general manager of the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Mall. Her father is, of course, the legendary Kenneth Hahn—the four decade County Supervior for whom which the Hall of Administration is named for. Janice still refers to the second Supervisorial seats as “her father’s seat.” Kenny Hahn was, of course, an honorary African American and as close to the black community as an elected official can get. Both of his children, former Mayor, Jim Hahn and Janice, has cashed in on their father’s name and seemingly endless political capital—even beyond the grave. We became friends out of that Baldwin Hills confrontation and frequently joke about the encounter over the years. So this is definitely not about Janice.
I’ve known Laura for about six years since she ran for the California Assembly. She is of bi-racial linage but is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus—which to me makes her African American representation, has a sincere demeanor and has been the underdog in every race she has run. She won because she is known for “delivering for her constituents,” something few politicians are known for anymore. Black politicians think they’re celebrities instead of policymakers. Laura doesn’t present herself that way, which caused us to bond. Rep. Richardson’s raise to Congress has been meteoric, going from City Council to the State Legislature to Congress in less than two years. In her four years in Congress, she has been the victim of some bad press and bogus allegations. Bad press does not a good heart make, first which I will be the first to attest. We are not who they say we are…we are what we show we are. The truth is in the pudding, not the deceit.
Laura Richardson has shown us something entirely different than what the press has said. And because of the bad press, we have people in the black community trying to either leverage her or flip her—both schemes for opportunists—and seem almost willing to concede a congressional seat for personal politics games. The personal politics has destroyed communities in Southern California, and now it threatens to destroy a congressional that if it goes away, will never come back. People are holding the seat “hostage” for two Assembly seats. Gaining four black Assembly seats wouldn’t be worth losing one black Congressional member. Somebody got it twisted and don’t understand true power. This is a seat the black community must hold if it is in their power to hold. There issues with Laura should be discussed, mediated and can be negotiated. Losing a black congressional seat is non-negotiable. That’s why I’m supporting Laura.
It’s just not a “black thang.” She has a proven policy track record. Anything negative has not been proven and we shouldn’t concede power if its doesn’t demand we do. The redistricting politic couldn’t be helped. The rest can be helped, if we help her. We should not stand around and lose the seat. Let’s not lose respect for ourselves because we don’t respect ourselves. Conceding a congress seat is foolish on our part.
Let’s get out and support Laura.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.