“I am true to my own race. I wish to see all done that can be done for their encouragement, to assist them in acquiring property, in becoming intelligent, enlightened, useful, valuable citizens.” — Sen. Hiram Revels, the first black to serve in Congress
Advice to D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Don’t dig a hole so wide and deep you can’t dig yourselves out of it in 2018.
During the 115th Congress, the caucus will be led by New Orleans native Cedric L. Richmond, 43. Sworn into Congress six years ago, he is a Democrat who has reached across the aisle on occasion, which means it will be interesting to see whether he will do the same with both houses and the White House controlled by the Republican Party.
If the issue of education is a guide post, then Mr. Richmond is no BFF of school choice. He voted against the D.C. school-voucher program. He also disappointed school-choice supporters by voting against federal grants that would have sent more funds to charter schools. (Interesting, since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita tanked New Orleans’ public schools, and charters came to their rescue.)
Something else comes this way, too: Senate confirmation hearings for Attorney General-nominee Jeff Sessions, which the overwhelming majority of black Congress members opposes.
Well, this week at a press conference, Mr. Richmond said this: “The best way to know what someone is going to do in the future is look at what they’ve done in the past. His (Mr. Session’s) beliefs are discriminatory. His actions are discriminatory.”
Mr. Richmond went on to say, “We may not have a vote in the Senate, but we have a voice — a voice for millions of Americans.”
Understand that the “we” Mr. Richmond was referring to was not a collective black “we.”
Mr. Richmond left out three of his colleagues on the Senate side: Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, Democrat Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and Democrat Kamala Harris of California.
Does he not consider them black?
Does he not consider them black enough?
Does he see them as red or blue politicians?
Or does he not see them at all within his tiny sphere that is the Congressional Black Caucus?
The current caucus is made up of 49 members. The U.S. House has 435 members, and each and every one represents all Americans. Ditto the U.S. Senate, which has 100 members. And even though Ms. Norton is a nonvoting House member (and counts me as a constituent — she doesn’t merely speak for D.C. residents; she, too, has to speak for all Americans).
That partisan, race-tinged rhetoric was some of the first words to be heard as the new 115th Congress posed for cameras is disappointing. The wrong tone was set.
For sure, Ms. Norton knows that she cannot be a one-note politician who sings the D.C. statehood tune and win re-election. She knows to represent a broad cross-section of residents and stakeholders, including those who vehemently oppose statehood as much as those who stridently support it.
The caucus should show Americans — the millions upon millions of Americans who chose the red side of the aisle — that the blue team is ready to represent all of America.
Especially show young people that acquiring property, becoming intelligent, enlightened, useful and valuable citizens is as much a part of your job as a federal lawmaker as saying “yea” or “nay” during roll call votes.
Prove that partisanship has its time and place, and that discounting people because of their race, creed or color is not — I repeat, not — the CBC’s end game.
Prove that the word “we” is inclusive of all Americans.
That’s what leaders do — especially political leaders who look beyond the horizon and want to move this nation forward.
This is the largest CBC class since the caucus was founded in 1971, and it is, supposedly, nonpartisan.
Now, 2017 is the perfect year for the Black Caucus to actually become nonpartisan.
And by the way, Hiram Revels was a Republican.
• Deborah Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.