A more representative Congress

November 05, 1992

Not as many incumbents lost their races for Congress as had been expected in the Year of the Outs, but the next Congress is going to be a much changed institution nevertheless.

The House of Representatives is going to be a much more representative body than ever before. The number of women representatives will rise from 28 to 48. The number of black representatives will rise from 25 to 38. The number of Hispanic representatives will rise from 13 to 19.

There are several reasons for these outcomes. Post-Census redistricting led to the creation of several new minority districts, in accordance with court orders and the Justice Department's interpretations of civil rights laws. Even without those changes, there probably would have been gains. Apprenticeship and career ladders are common in politics. Blacks and Hispanics have been entering politics at the bottom rung in significant numbers for about two decades now. Many are reaching the congressional level.

This is also true for women. A record number of women sought House seats this year. There were several woman vs. woman contests. The former PTA president, county councilwoman, state legislator is now ready for a try for the House.

And not just the House; many women are ready for the Senate. Four were elected for the first time Tuesday (and Sen. Barbara Mikulski was re-elected with the second highest winning percentage of any Senate candidate). That means there will be six rather than two elected women senators in the next Senate. There will also be one black senator, where now there are none, the second in post-Reconstruction history. And there will be a native American Indian, also the second in history.

If more incumbents won than expected, retirements and bids for other offices still helped make the turnover in the House equal to about one-fourth its total membership of 435. That is the second biggest House cleaning in modern history.

Because the House, Senate and presidency will all be Democratic, for the first time in 12 years, some predict an end to the gridlock that has existed between a Republican executive and a Democratic legislature. The public wants gridlock to end and action to begin. We hope the two branches will work together constructively, but we will believe it when we see it. Democratic Congresses did not get along that well with the last Democratic presidents. Bill Clinton had no coattails, and few Democratic members of Congress will feel beholden to him. The president-elect's party lost nine seats in the House -- the worst record by a winning presidential candidate's party in 32 years. We hope that is not a portent of gridlock to come.

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