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Hill Demographic Goes Slightly More Female
No Racial Shift, But Minorities' Influence May Rise

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 9, 2006

The House and Senate elections this week added at least five women to the next Congress, the only notable demographic shift in an otherwise dramatic political upheaval.

For the most part, Congress will remain dominated by white men. In terms of racial demographics, neither body will see a change in numbers, but the influence of minority leaders could increase: Five blacks and one Hispanic are in line for House committee chairmanships.

On the religious front, Democrats in Minnesota elected the House's first Muslim member.

The congressional black population will remain unchanged at 43, with three members leaving the House and three elected to the next Congress, all Democrats -- Yvette Clarke of New York, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Henry "Hank" Johnson Jr. of Georgia. In Senate races, black candidates did not do well. Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) was defeated in his Senate bid, as was Maryland's Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) remains the only black Senate member.

Although for years Democrats and the black community pushed to recruit more African American candidates, there were no complaints yesterday about the status quo.

Myra L. Dandridge, a spokeswoman for the Congressional Black Caucus, said the elections had particular historical significance because "five members stand to chair five very powerful, prominent House committees." In addition, another member, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), is a contender for majority whip, the No. 3 position in the House.

"This demonstrates diversity among the ranks of the House leadership and mirrors how America looks," Dandridge said.

The number of Hispanic legislators remains unchanged, with 23 in the House and three in the Senate. Rep. Nydia M. Valazquez (D-N.Y.) is in line to be chairman of the House Small Business Committee.

"Of course, we're disappointed," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

"The real issue for us is the need to field Latino candidates in non-majority Latino districts," he said. "We need to see that crossover, and we need the party to recognize viable Latinos. . . . For the most part Latinos in Congress are representing Latino majority districts. But the three senators show they can get elected statewide."

The elections added one Asian American member to the House, bringing the total to six, in addition to the two senators from Hawaii.

The elections also yielded several armed services veterans and an unusually large group of non-career politicians. Twenty of the new Democratic lawmakers come from a variety of professions -- including a sheriff, a college professor, a high school teacher, a football coach, a social worker and a chemist.

Women in Congress made a net gain of five seats, three in the House and two in the Senate, bringing the total to 86. At least eight new Democratic women and two Republican women were elected to the House, with the possibility of a few more in still unresolved races. Two female Senate victors -- Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota -- will bring the number in that body to 16.

Women's advocates were hoping for larger gains but were hampered by the loss of four Republican House seats held by women. Nonetheless, the Democratic victories showed that women generally run well as agents of change "because they are viewed as outsiders," said Deborah L. Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

As far as having a legislative impact, Walsh said, "women do bring a different set of life experiences to policymaking. Women in both parties are more likely than men to focus on issues affecting women, families and children."

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