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Women winners, progressive challengers and election questions

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Aug 15, 2018 - 10:06:32 AM

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WASHINGTON—In 1968, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said he approached Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.), the Dean of Black members of Congress with the idea of forming a Congressional Black Caucus.

“Why would you want to form a Black Caucus?” was Mr. Powell’s reply, Mr. Conyers once told this writer in an interview. “In order to represent all Black people in Congress,” he replied. “But I already represent all Black people,” said Mr. Powell, who opposed the idea of a Black Caucus.

On March 30, 1971, with 12 others including Rep. Charles Rangel, who narrowly defeated Mr. Powell in 1970, Mr. Conyers evolved the Congressional Black Caucus from what began in 1969 as a Democratic Select Committee into an outspoken Black Congressional advocacy group which had already boycotted Richard Nixon’s 1971 State of the Union address.

Mr. Conyers retired from Congress earlier this year amid Me-Too-movement related allegations of sexual abuse by former employees, after more than 53 years in office.

Now, once Detroit City Council Chairwoman Brenda Jones fills the 13th District seat temporarily from November until January, the Detroit district where the Congressional Black Caucus was born, will no longer be represented by a Black person. Former state legislator Rashida Tlaib won half of the Democratic primary vote Aug. 7, and is now poised to fill Mr. Conyers’ seat and become the nation’s first Congress member of Palestinian descent, and the first Muslim woman in the House.

Voters also went to the polls that day in Ohio, Kansas, Missouri and Washington.

While most post-election attention focused on the razor-thin victory by a Republican in what should have been a “safe” seat—a district which was won by President Donald Trump by double digits in 2016 and which has been in GOP hands for more than three decades—in Missouri, little national attention was paid to the unusual Detroit congressional outcome.

Michigan is where the largest population of people of Arab descent outside the Middle East resides. This year, about a dozen Muslims—descendants of recent immigrants to the U.S.—ran for public office, from governor down through Congress to statehouse seats.

And, for the second time in a decade, a Michigan special election held the same day as a regular election produced two different members of Congress. No Republican is running for the seat, making the victories by Ms. Jones and Ms. Tlaib tantamount to election. Ms. Jones will be sworn in shortly after the November election, while Ms. Tlaib will be sworn in when the new Congress convenes in January.

“I felt a tremendous need to get into the ring rather than sit on the sidelines,” Ms. Tlaib told CBS News the night of the election. “I always tell people, in some ways, Trump being elected president of the United States was kind of like the bat signal for many women across the country, not just Muslim women, but women from all backgrounds.” According to the Center for American Women in Politics, at least 182 female major-party nominees will be running for the U.S. House. That’s the highest number ever.

Nationally, analysts had been watching the Aug. 7 primaries to see evidence of a predicted “blue wave,” a tide which would wash Democrats back into majorities in the House and/or the Senate. Instead, an unprecedented list of victorious female candidates has emerged on Aug. 7 and all year. Many of those women have good chances for victory in November.

Michigan is the “poster state” illustrating the trend. In addition to Ms. Tlaib, Gretchen Whitmer, a former leader in the State Senate, captured the Democratic nomination for governor, defeating former Detroit Medical Commissioner Dr.  Abdul El-Sayed. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) is seeking reelection to the U.S. Senate; earlier this year, Dana Nessel won the Democratic Party endorsement in her bid for state attorney general at party convention; and Jocelyn Benson is the Michigan Democratic nominee to be secretary of state.

Another Black woman poised to make a substantial electoral impact is Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee to become the first female governor of Georgia. “Potentially, Abrams can win,” Dr. Clarence Lusane, chair of the Department of Political Science at Howard University told The Final Call. “It’s going to require a massive turnout, not only of Democratic voters, but independent voters who also see the race not just in terms of Georgia, but in national terms as well. There is some evidence that could happen. But it will be an uphill battle.

“I think it’s possible, particularly if it’s possible of a national wave of people coming out to turn back the Trump agenda. That’s what we saw in Alabama when Judge Roy Moore was defeated, and pretty much no one predicted that.

“Stacey Adams has been running what I think has been a very logical and strong campaign, where she has been very clear: she really has to turn her base out, and kind of inspire that base, and then whoever else they pull along with that will be fine. She isn’t trying to run down the middle and try to win voters she’s not going to win,” Dr. Lusane continued. The Georgia election will be held Nov. 6.

“Women are very powerful,” the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said Aug. 10 in a message via Instagram. “You are the key. You mean everything to our struggle.”

Another emerging trend is the victory of avowedly “progressive” candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic-Socialist, who defeated incumbent Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley, causing turmoil in the ranks of the party “establishment,” including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Many progressive Democrats support a number of policies popularized by 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Those positions include Medicare for all national health coverage; a living wage of $15 an hour and a union for all workers; tuition-debt free college; the abolition of the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency; an energy policy aiming to achieve 100 percent renewable energy; and no corporate money for campaign contributions.

Former President Barack Obama weighed into the political stream, endorsing 81 candidates around the country. Conspicuously absent from Mr. Obama’s list were Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Ben Jealous, the former NAACP CEO and Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland. “President Obama’s endorsements are very curious,” said Dr. Lusane. “He didn’t endorse Ben Jealous. He didn’t endorse some of the other progressives that have actually won primaries. It’s unclear why there’s a caution there. It literally can’t cost him anything and it would help some of these candidates.”

Ms. Tlaib’s victory carries perhaps, the most significance. “She ran on a very progressive agenda. She didn’t bite her tongue, at all,” said Dr. Lusane. Hers “will be an important voice, not just because of her background, but because of the policies that she’s advocated, from increasing the minimum wage, and the peace agenda. It will be great, I think.

“I would suspect that former Representative Conyers would actually be very happy that someone’s coming to take his place who really will represent not only the politics that he advocated for decades, but bring in that additional perspective and experience of being of Palestinian ancestry,” said Dr. Lusane.