The Mfume-Gingrich 'Swap'

January 14, 1995

Speaker Newt Gingrich says he wants conservative suburban Republicans to "swap" House districts with liberal urban Democrats. To lead the way, he plans to swap with the man he says is his favorite black Democrat in the House of Representatives, Baltimore's Kweisi Mfume.

We think it's a good idea -- as long as it's not just a gimmick. Representative Mfume seems to be a little skeptical. That's understandable. We are, too. We don't doubt the speaker's sincerity, but we have to say that he has been throwing off so many bold and innovative ideas recently that it is hard to know which ones are thoroughly thought through, do-able and will be assigned a high priority, and which ones are not and will soon be filed away and forgotten.

We understand a swap to mean extended mutual visits to each other's district by odd couples like Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Mfume. Such visits could be educational for both men and perhaps promote a fraternal relationship as well. Both of those achievements are necessary if the great divide between such representatives' constituencies -- and ideas -- is going to be narrowed.

ZTC Compare: The Seventh Congressional District of Maryland is 71 percent black. The Sixth Congressional District of Georgia is 6 percent black. Married couples make up 34 percent of the population of the Maryland district; they make up 62 percent of the Georgia district. Married couples with children: 14 percent here, 32 percent there. College education: 37 percent here, 70 percent there. Per capita income: $11,718 here, $22,181 there. And so on. The divide as measured by comparing mortality, disease, births to unwed mothers, criminal victimization, school dropouts, is also great.

Clearly there are two Americas. If a Newt Gingrich can get a better feel for the nature of the America that Maryland's Seventh District symbolizes by visiting here often and adopting the Seventh as his "sister" district, perhaps the urgency for lending a helping federal hand -- something that he and most suburban conservatives almost automatically oppose -- will become more apparent, more urgent. Likewise, if a Kweisi Mfume can by this sort of swap understand the reasons for suburbanites' opposition to traditional programs aimed at helping the urban poor, perhaps he can convert them -- or come up with different, more acceptable programs.

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