Black Congressmen in Line for Key Committee Leadership Positions Both Political Parties Are Campaigning on Education, but Democrats Are Expected to Boost Financial Aid If They Gain Control of Congress

Article excerpt

For African-Americans, the 2006 mid-term elections present an opportunity to expand their power base on Capitol Hill and give higher education more visibility in Congress.

Should Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives--as some analysts predict--Blacks are in line for the chairmanships of at least three major committees. Those favored for top jobs based on seniority include: Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., at the Ways and Means Committee; Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., at the Judiciary Committee; and Pep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., at the Homeland Security Committee. There currently are no Black committee chairs in the House.

Conyers' potential succession to the Judiciary Committee is perhaps the most controversial among political observers, particularly bloggers, who play an increasingly large role in get-out-the-vote efforts. Conservatives say Conyers would seek the immediate impeachment of President Bush after a Democratic takeover. The Michigan lawmaker denies this but says he would push for a special committee to examine the Iraq war policy and alleged violations of privacy and civil liberties.

If this bipartisan panel found evidence of impeachable offenses, he says, the Judiciary Committee then would take up the issue. "I readily admit that I have been quite vigorous, if not relentless, in questioning the administration," the lawmaker wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed. "One-party rule has dug our nation into a deep hole over the past six years."

Republicans currently hold a 15-seat advantage in the House, though many polls in mid-October showed Democrats poised to make gains. Dr. Ronald Walters, a political scientist and director of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, says he expects the Democrats to pick up about 25 seats--enough to give them control by a small margin next year. Some Republican strategists are preparing for the possibility of losing as many as 30 House seats.

But such a switch by itself would not guarantee wholesale shifts in federal policy. "It's going to be difficult," Waiters says, unless Democrats also re-take the Senate. …