Can Deval Patrick bring diversity to the US Senate?
Presidential administrations typically go through a few staff changes while making the transition from a first term to a second. People leave due to personal ambition, work-related fatigue, or are simply shuffled around to different jobs.
We know now there is one vacancy to be filled in President Barack Obama’s second term, as General David Petraeus steps down as Director of the CIA due to his extramarital affair. Additionally, there is speculation about who will fill the role of Secretary of State, as the current head of that department, Hillary Clinton, has indicated her desire to resign. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, and former Democratic presidential nominee, is said to be the frontrunner, as it has long been his dream job and he has been auditioning for the role during the president’s campaign.
If he were to be appointed to the position, there would be a vacancy in the senate that would be left for Massachusetts sitting Governor Deval Patrick to fill. There is one candidate he should take a long, hard look at should he have to make such a decision: himself.
The reason is simple. In what is set to be the most diverse congress in this nation’s history, there will still be a grand total of zero African-Americans serving in the senate. The last one was Roland Burris out of Illinois, chosen under a cloud of controversy to serve by the now incarcerated former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, when Obama’s seat was left vacant upon winning the presidency. Obama himself was the only black person in the senate during his time, and before him was Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, who remains the only African-American woman to ever be elected to the senate.
African-Americans are regularly elected to congress, but usually only in the House of Representatives, and even then only in districts with majority black constituents. There remain structural impediments to electing black candidates to statewide and national offices.
As The American Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie writes in his piece “The Other Glass Ceiling”: “To prove they are viable candidates, black politicians need to raise huge sums of money. Because of low confidence in their ability to do so, however, fundraising is difficult; an ambitious black politician can easily become trapped in a vicious cycle of low expectations and diminished opportunities.”
Black politicians, by and large, do not have access to the same capital necessary to conduct a far-reaching campaign, and those who do get elected in these near homogenous congressional districts have a harder time modulating their message to appeal to a broad coalition of voters as opposed to winning over a majority of black voters with similar political ideologies.
In recent history, a few have made breakthroughs, the most obvious being the president. Patrick is another, being elected Massachusetts first black governor and only the second black governor elected in the entire nation, after Douglas Wilder in Virginia.
On a personal note, appointing himself senator would bolster his own resume, loading it with both executive and legislative experience, were he to one day want to seek the presidency.
Patrick would also be a natural ally to for Obama in the senate. They have the Harvard Law School connection, the historic nature of their own elections, and represent a new breed of black politician that has become more viable in national politics. And as Democrats try to build a more progressive coalition to push through their agenda, they could do worse than having someone who served as an Assistant Attorney General in the Clinton administration’s Department of Justice, doing work in the Civil Rights Division on issues of racial profiling and police misconduct. It’s perhaps one of the things Obama and Patrick discussed over dinner this past Friday.
Whether he appoints himself or not, should Patrick have to make an appointment to the senate, his eye should be toward diversity. We know the country is changing, as evidenced by the results of the 2012 election and the reaction of those on the right. It’s one sign of progress, though the work of legislating toward more progress has yet to be done.
However, in order for that to take place, there will need to be those with a disposition toward equality in justice serving in all branches of the government. Given the opportunity, it would behoove Patrick to answer his own call.
Follow Mychal Denzel Smith on Twitter at @mychalsmith