Congressional Turmoil: Will Detroit gain or lose influence in Congress?

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    John Conyers opt2

    Michigan Republicans couldn’t be happier than to see their counterpart Democrats duking it out for two seats in Congress in the 13th and 14th congressional districts.

    When the GOP redrew the district lines, snaking them in a way that put Democrats off balance and disadvantaged them in their own territory, in places like Detroit, which traditionally have been Democratic strongholds, and now stand to lose African- American representation in Congress, they knew exactly what they were doing.

    They threw a curve ball at Democrats who are now using that ball to eliminate each other in the race for Congress, apparently without looking at the larger impact it has on a city like Detroit which has long enjoyed minority (Black) representation in line with the Voting Rights Act.

    And so, in democracy’s name, we rightfully have many candidates seeking the office of Congress in both districts where only two will get elected.

    In the 14th District, incumbent Congressman Hansen Clarke, incumbent Congressman Gary Peters, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence and former Lansing Democratic Minority Leader Mary Waters are vying to represent that district in Washington.

    In the 13th District, incumbent Congressman John Conyers, State Senator Bert Johnson, State Senator Glenn Anderson and State Representative Shanelle Jackson are battling to see who will head to the nation’s capital.

    These two races, often overlooked, are particularly significant because they will determine how Detroit moves forward in its national political image and representation in the halls of Congress.

    Raw ambition and political zest aside, if in fact Senator Anderson, the only Caucasian candidate in the 13th District, wins largely because all the other (African-American) candidates divided the Detroit vote and Anderson scores big with the subur­b­an vote, it will mean no African- American representation in Congress from that district, at least for now.

    And if Congressman Peters pulls off an upset in the hotly contested 14th District, it marks the end of African-American or minority representation in Congress from Michigan, once again, for now.

    That is the reality and is the big picture that is not being talked about in the midst of the political platitudes.

    Do Democrats have an option to make right the wrongs of the redistricting process?

    Yes. Don’t just blame the Republicans. Blame yourselves and if, in fact, Democrats were so concerned about the consequences of a lack of African-American representation in Congress, they would have ensured that at least one of the districts remains in the African-American column.

    But that is not the case. Because ambition rather than an acute sense of the political stakes in play is driving a lot of the conversation around going to Congress.

    Republicans follow the script and the template ensuring that whoever symbolizes or epitomizes political power — and is delivering — has the support no matter what it takes.

    On the other hand, Democrats do not follow the script because they want to please everyone which has its own ramifications. That is evidenced in the races we are witnessing.

    I’ve had supporters of some of the candidates tell me that I am making too big a big deal out of possibly not having a Black congressperson from Michigan.

    That is because they are looking through the lens of ambition and the potential political opportunities that come with having a “candidate for Congress” listed on a résumé, rather than the real effect of dividing the vote that leads to no Black representation.

    While we must encourage as many people as possible to run for office, we cannot dismiss certain basic truths that are part of making America continue to live up to the meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” which enjoins the Voting Rights Act, which in turn has long guaranteed Black representation in Congress from Michigan.

    Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His forthcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.


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