Black Lawmakers in the South See Statehouse Influence Wane

ATLANTA (AP) — An overwhelming allegiance to the Democratic Party has left black lawmakers in the South without power in Republican-controlled state legislatures, according to a new report.

The nonpartisan Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies said in a report issued Friday that despite Barack Obama’s election as president, black voters and elected officials in the South have less influence now than at any other time since the civil rights era.

“Since conservative whites control all the power in the region, they are enacting legislation both neglectful of the needs of African-Americans and other communities of color,” the senior research associate, David A. Bositis, wrote in a paper titled “Resegregation in Southern Politics?” The center, based in Washington, conducts research and policy analysis, particularly on issues that affect blacks and other minorities.

Mr. Bositis said legislatures were increasingly divided along racial lines — making Republican synonymous with white, and Democrat with black. The report said a majority of Democrats in both legislative chambers in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi are black. In half of the Southern legislative chambers, blacks are a majority or near-majority of Democratic members.

It is a phenomenon unique to the South, as a majority of black state lawmakers serving in legislative bodies outside of the region belong to the party in charge, the report says.

“That’s one of the costs of putting all your political capital in a single party,” said Merle Black, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, who is researching the rise of the Republican Party in the South. “When the Democrats were in power, there was a period there when black lawmakers were very influential.”

That era is over, at least for now, Professor Black said.

“Unless the Democrats can work out some kind of deal with the Republicans, the issues that African-Americans want to get passed along would have to have enough support among Republicans to pass them,” he said.

State Representative Barbara Ballard of Kansas, chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus in the Kansas House and president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, said Southern black lawmakers who find themselves on the margins of power need to get more creative to remain effective.

“When you have smaller numbers, you work harder and you work smarter,” said Ms. Ballard, who has served in the Kansas House for 19 years. “We still have to represent our constituents. Just because someone else is running the agenda, if we weren’t there, they would totally control everything.”

Chris Jankowski, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said the federal Voting Rights Act as applied to redistricting had led to the consolidation of a main voting bloc in the Democratic Party: blacks.

“The effect of that is, in the South, to weaken the ability in the party to compete in other districts,” Mr. Jankowski said. “It does have an unintended but very clear impact on Republican prospects.”

Before the 1994 midterm elections, nearly all black lawmakers served in the majority. Even before the 2010 midterm elections, about half of the black legislators in the South were in the majority, the report said. Now, about 5 percent are in the majority.

And of the 318 black legislators in the South, only 3 are Republican, according to the center.

“Virtually all black elected officials in the region are outsiders looking in,” the report said.

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