Coalitions in the House? the Election of Minorities to State Legislatures and Congress

Article excerpt

What kinds of districts do Latinos and African Americans represent? Are biracial coalitions forming to elect minority candidates in state legislatures? Is it easier for minorities to get elected in lower chamber districts? This article addresses these questions to assess whether Latinos are indeed becoming more alienated from African Americans. Using data from six diverse states and Congress, this article explains the conditions under which African Americans and Latinos are elected to some of the most important legislative institutions in the United States. Among the key findings are that biracial coalitions are not electing minority legislators in all of the states studied. That is, African American majority districts elect African Americans and Latino majority districts elect Latinos. In the U.S. House, however, African American members do benefit from Latino voters.

Keywords: legislatures; minorities; coalitions; elections

What kinds of districts do Latinos and African Americans represent? Are biracial coalitions forming to elect minority candidates in state legisla- tures? Is it easier for minorities to get elected in lower chamber districts? This article addresses these questions to assess whether Latinos and African Americans are joining together to elect legislators. This is especially salient given recent research showing some tension and animosity between Latinos and African Americans, at least in some parts of the country (McClain et al. 2006). Do these attitudes translate to voting behavior in leg- islative districts? Congressional scholars have long been interested in questions of accountability, representation, and political participation (Arnold 1990; Fenno 1978; Lublin 1997b; Hall 1996). Several scholars have addressed such issues as they relate to racial and ethnic minorities (Swain 1993; Lublin 1997b; Fenno 2003; Canon 1999a, 1999b; Haynie 2001). It is therefore fit- ting to examine the conditions under which Latinos and African Americans are elected to legislative bodies. While Lublin's (1997b) work focuses on Congress, this article examines the numerous microcosms that exist throughout the United States. Many of the most impor- tant political and policy issues are being debated and voted on in state legislatures. Theoretically, the consid- erations politicians weigh when running for state leg- islatures should also be similar to higher offices. In addition, the state legislatures serve as fertile ground for aspirants to Congress and other higher offices. Obviously differences exist between state legislatures and Congress, but to gain analytic leverage over the conditions under which minorities are elected to Congress, one must first look at the "training" ground for most members of Congress - state legislatures. This article ascertains the rise in minorities serving in the state legislatures of California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois and in Congress to determine whether coalitions between Latinos and African Americans help elect minority legislators.

This article uses Census 2000 Public Law 94-171 Redistricting Data, data from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Rosters, data from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and information directly from the state legislature Web sites to answer the operative research questions: What are the types of districts that minority legislators represent, and what is the probability of a minority getting elected in any given district?

Theory and Choice of States

Early work involving political coalitions largely concerned black-white alliances in urban settings (Sonenshein 1988; Browning, Marshall, and Tabb 1984). Because of the ever-changing demographics in the United States, some scholars have turned their attention to the possibility of black-brown coalitions in urban settings and school districts (Kaufmann 2003; Meier et al. 2004). However, research involving black-brown coalitions in legislative institutions is woefully underdeveloped, thus necessitating some inquiry. …