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Devolution and Black State Legislators

Challenges and Choices in the Twenty-first Century

Tyson King-Meadows, Thomas F. Schaller

Publication Year: 2006

Devolution and Black State Legislators examines whether black state legislators can produce qualitative gains in the substantive representation of black interests. Once a battle cry by southern conservatives, “new federalism” has shifted power from Washington to the respective state governments and, ironically, has done so as black state legislators grow in number. Tyson King-Meadows and Thomas F. Schaller look at the debates surrounding black political incorporation, the tradeoffs between substantive and descriptive representation, racial redistricting, and the impact of black legislators on state budgetary politics. They situate contemporary constraints on black state elites as the union of macro- and micro-level forces, which allows for a reconsideration of how the idiosyncrasies of political, economic, and geographic culture converge with the internal dynamics of state legislative processes to produce particular environments. Interviews with black legislators provide valuable insights into how such idiosyncrasies may deprive institutional advancement—committee assignments, chairmanships, and party leadership positions—of the influence it once afforded.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Devolution and Black State Legislators

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pp. i-v


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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

List of Tables

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pp. xi-xiii


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-7

The scene is the Ohio General Assembly, Columbus, 1977. Ohio Senator C. J. McLin and his fellow black state legislators find themselves in the middle of a high-stakes political standoff. Ohio law requires a minimum number of legislators to cast votes to pass the state budget, even if every voting member favors passage. Sensing political opportunity, Ohio’s black legislators refuse to vote at all, preventing the necessary quorum of votes to pass the budget. Political chaos ensues

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1. The State Link in the Chain

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pp. 9-38

Power in American politics is not where it once was. Since the election of President Ronald Reagan, the increasingly centripetal nature of American politics —ideologically and programmatically—places the state and its discretionary power at the center of public policy development, implementation, and administration. “New federalism” and devolution initiatives have shifted power from Washington to the respective state governments.

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2. Race and Representation in State Legislatures

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pp. 39-58

In many ways, New Jersey Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman typifies the twenty-first-century black state legislator. A graduate of Thomas Edison State College, an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister, practicing Baptist, lifetime member of Trenton’s chapter of the NAACP, and loyal Democrat, Watson Coleman is a civic leader with deep community roots. In 1994, after a long career in government service that included a stint as director of the State ...

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3. The Black Electoral Connection

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pp. 59-90

Fairly or not, Mississippi has long been a focal point for racial injustice and the disenfranchisement of African Americans.1 As depicted most famously in the film Mississippi Burning, one of the darkest moments in Mississippi’s history came in June 1964, when civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered on Rock Cut Road in Neshoba County for their political activism. As a result of ballot restrictions ...

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4. When Identity and Constituency Collide at Roll Call

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pp. 91-107

People in Pittsburgh love their football Steelers and baseball Pirates, and they cheered both teams to world championships at the famed Three Rivers Stadium on the city’s waterfront. By the end of the 1990s, however, Three Rivers Stadium had become outmoded. When city leaders turned to the state of Pennsylvania for help with financing the construction of separate new stadiums for Pittsburgh’s professional football and baseball teams, many state legislators in Harrisburg were eager to help.

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5. The Institutionalization of Black State Legislative Power

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pp. 109-145

If you try to kill the king, the saying goes, make sure you kill him. This is a lesson the black state legislators from Massachusetts learned the hard way. Two years after the bruising 1996 battle for the speakership of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the Massachusetts Legislative Black Caucus (MALBC) was still paying the political price for having sided against the eventual winner, Speaker Thomas Finnerman.

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6. Black Legislators, Black Constituents, and the Devolution Revolution

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pp. 147-189

For many African Americans, the 1994 congressional elections signaled a decisive change in the American political landscape. Given their liberal policy preferences, many were concerned about the conservative agenda of the 104th House Republican reformers under newly anointed Speaker Newt Gingrich and the “Contract with America.” These reformers were believed to be opportunistic predators targeting black people and antipoverty safety nets; the “devolution revolution” meant impending doom.

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7. Nationalizing Black State Interests

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pp. 191-216

At the twenty-fifth annual meeting of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ Annual Legislative Conference, held in late November 2001 in Atlanta, black state legislators celebrated their silver anniversary with talk of both their accomplishments and disappointments from the quarter-century passed. The conference theme, “Our Legacy . . . Our Destiny,” underscored the significance and symbolism of the organization’s anniversary.1

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8. Devolutionary Dangers

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pp. 217-227

Elijah Cummings was in his element. Delivering the keynote luncheon speech to the assembled members at the 1999 National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ Annual Legislative Conference held at the Baltimore Hyatt in his political backyard, the Maryland Congressman could have relaxed in the comfort of colleagues and friends, many of whom he knew from his career as a Maryland House Delegate, NBCSL officer, and U.S. Congressman. But Cummings, with the booming voice and oratorical flair of a southern preacher, decided to shake his listeners from their seats.

Appendix A: Underlying Data for Figures 3.2a and 3.2b

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pp. 229-231

Appendix B: Trends in AFDC/TANF Recipient Characteristics

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pp. 233-235

Appendix C: Methods for Reexamining Sticks and Carrots

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pp. 237-238


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pp. 239-271


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pp. 273-295


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pp. 297-302

E-ISBN-13: 9780791481929
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791467299
Print-ISBN-10: 0791467295

Page Count: 302
Illustrations: 45 tables, 14 figures
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 77059285
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Devolution and Black State Legislators

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Local government -- United States.
  • Congressional Black Caucus.
  • Federal government -- United States.
  • African American legislators.
  • African Americans -- Politics and government.
  • United States -- Social policy -- 1980-1993.
  • Legislative bodies -- United States -- States -- Leadership.
  • United States -- Social policy -- 1993-.
  • Representative government and representation -- United States.
  • Decentralization in government -- United States.
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