Blacks eye new deals in Congress ELECTION 1994

November 11, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- As they come to grips with the changed congressional landscape, organizations representing blacks are groping for a new strategy to advance their interests.

Some -- such as Wade Henderson, Washington director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- have begun planning the unimaginable: To survive in the next Congress, Mr. Henderson is already seeking issues where the civil rights group can form coalitions with the GOP leaders.

"It's going to be necessary to cultivate more access and involvement with the Republican leadership," Mr. Henderson says, adding that the points of common interest have yet to be defined or suggested to the incoming congressional leaders. "That's going to require our opening doors we've never considered crossing."

While many black lawmakers were pumped up two years ago by the election of the first Democrat to the White House in more than a decade, they now find themselves stripped of many of their congressional allies and stunned by a seeming national rejection of social policies that they believed could be enacted.

The sweeping change in Congress comes as a humbling reversal for members of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members are overwhelmingly Democrats and must surrender three committee chairs and 17 subcommittee chairs to Republicans in the 104th Congress.

"The Congressional Black Caucus will become a non-player because no one will need their vote anymore," says Raynard Jackson, Washington bureau chief of National Minority Politics, a conservative black-owned magazine published in Arlington, Va. "The White House is going to move away from the Black Caucus to appeal to the center of the nation and the Republicans can pass anything they want without a single vote from the Democrats in the Black Caucus."

But others see opportunity.

"The results of the elections made it respectable for blacks to be conservative and Republican," says Armstrong Williams, a Washington-based black radio talk-show host. "Black Americans can come home. They can come out of the kitchens of the Democratic Party."

Mr. Williams points to the strong showings of black Republicans in the midterm elections as proof of opportunities for blacks within the GOP. In particular, he says, the election of former Oklahoma University quarterback J.C. Watts and the re-election of Rep. Gary Franks, R-Conn., illustrates the willingness of whites to vote for blacks who have conservative values. Both Messrs. Watts and Franks represent majority white districts.

"It's not about race, it's about old-fashioned, conservative values and beliefs in the Creator," Mr. Williams says.

Willie Richardson, publisher of National Minority Politics, says politically active blacks will find over the next two years that they will have more opportunities to advance within the GOP than the Democratic Party. He says the Democrats take black participation for granted because blacks tend to overlook Republican candidates and vote blindly for the Democrats.

But, he says, this year's election showed that is changing as 22 blacks ran for House seats on the GOP ticket, up from 15 in 1992. More important, he says, eight of the candidates won at least 40 percent of the votes in their races, a remarkable feat given that most of them were running against black Democrats and black voters tend to give GOP candidates about 10 percent of their votes.

Others glumly predict that black lawmakers and their constituents will find few sympathetic ears within the Clinton administration or among congressional leaders -- Democrats or Republicans -- as they fight to maintain policies and programs supported by their constituents.

"This new situation is certain to pose a new challenge because it raises questions about how blacks relate to the administration, which we expect will move to the right and away from our concerns," says Linda Faye Williams, who heads the Institute for Policy and Education at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. "The same can be said of Congress. Even the Democrats who were our allies will be rushing to the center and away from anything that smacks of liberal or special interests. Right now, we don't know whether we have foes or allies."

Specifically, Mr. Williams says, black lawmakers expect a lonely fight as they struggle to hold on to voting rights laws and try to prevent enactment of laws that might disproportionately harm blacks, such as in the areas of welfare and crime.

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