In Honor of Caribbean Heritage Month

by Sharon Chiang

In honor of the last week of Caribbean Heritage Month, we here at NALP have collected biographies of some notable elected officials of Caribbean descent who have served their country and changed the face of American leadership.

Shirley Chisholm: First Caribbean (and African American) Congresswoman

"Service is the rent that you pay for room on this earth." Shirley Chisholm was the first African American of Caribbean descent ever elected to Congress. Her love for public service is evident through her dedication to advancing women and minorities. Chisholm grew up in New York City, Brooklyn, and at one point, Barbados with her grandmother Emaline Seale. Her father was from British Guiana and her mother from Barbados. Although Chisholm spent most her childhood in Barbados, in 1946 she returned to the U.S. and attended Brooklyn College.  After college, she continued her education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College where she earned a Master’s degree in elementary education. After working as a teacher, she became involved in grassroots organizing and with the Unity Democratic Club where she forged her community ties that made it possible for her to win a 1964 bid for a New York State Assembly seat. In 1968, she ran as the Democratic candidate for New York’s 12th district congressional seat, and became the first African American woman elected to Congress. During her tenure, she focused on bills pertaining to childcare and women, and advocated for better treatment of Haitian refugees during President Carter’s term. Chisholm would go on to serve in Congress for seven terms and, in 1984, help form the National Political Congress of Black Women (NPCBW).

David Paterson: First Afro-Jamaican Governor

David Paterson’s Caribbean roots stem from his father’s half Afro-Jamaican heritage. Paterson’s biography is truly inspiring.  As a newborn he developed a serious ear infection that damaged his left eye and limited his vision in his right, leaving young Paterson legally blind.  Despite his blindness, however, Paterson was able to graduate from Columbia University and study law at Hofstra University. He went on to work in the Queens District Attorney’s Office as an assistant district attorney and run for the State Senate at the age of 31. Paterson eventually became New York’s first Afro-Jamaican Lieutenant Governor and later the governor of New York. Today, Paterson still continues his role as a public servant as a member of the Democratic National Committee and as a board member of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. In addition to his political work, his experience with his disability has inspired him to be an advocate of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Colin Powell: First Jamaican U.S. Secretary of State.

Colin Powell was born in Harlem, New York to Jamaican immigrant parents, Luther and Maud Powell. After attending various New York City public schools, he enrolled in City College of New York to study geology and later drastically changed the direction of his career by joining the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).  Powell became the commander of his unit’s drill team and later, the 2nd lieutenant of the US Army after his graduation.  Powell returned from the army, earning his MBA from George Washington University and was promptly assigned to work at the Office of Management and Budget under the Nixon administration. When Reagan became President, Powell was appointed as his National Security Advisor, advising the President on international affairs, specifically those with the Soviet Union.  In 1992, President George H. W Bush appointed Colin Powell to be Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff where he oversaw 28 military and political crises, including the infamous Operation Desert Storm. Powell’s extensive military experience would lead President George W. Bush to appoint him as the U.S. Secretary of State, making Powell the first U.S. Secretary of State of Jamaican descent.


“These Men Never Stood in Unmovable Lines”

by Tyler Reny

This morning, in a breath-taking and historic wielding of power, the Supreme Court, voting 5-to-4, struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) as unconstitutional.  Section 5, the “heart” and “hammer” of the 1965 law, the provision that has for more than 50 years allowed the Justice Department to pre-emptively block changes to electoral practices and laws in certain states and municipalities that have a history of discriminatory behavior towards minority voters remains intact.  But without Section 4, which outlines the coverage formula for Section 5, Section 5 is toothless.  Today’s ruling will have tragic ramifications for everything from the placement of polls to voter ID laws to redistricting.  Most importantly, in a direct blow to the mission of the New American Leaders Project, it would diminish the ability of minority groups to elect their favored candidates.

When the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, a century worth of Jim Crow laws and practices were outlawed with the sweep of President Johnson’s pen.  The results have been extraordinary.  In Mississippi, the number of African Americans who were registered to vote skyrocketed from just 7% in 1965 to 74% by 1988.  The number of majority-minority districts in the U.S. grew from just 35 in 1982 to 106 by 2012.  Similarly, majority-minority and single-member districts both opened the door for the election of legislators of color at every level of government.  Before the VRA was passed, Atlanta’s city council had no members of color.  Today, 13 of 16 are black.  The story is the same in Congress. The Congressional Black Caucus has 44 members and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus 27. 

Nearly everyone agrees that Section 5 has played a critical role in vastly expanding the franchise to minority voters. Justice Ginsburg, in her dissent today, even wrote that “The Voting Rights Act became one of the most consequential, efficacious, and amply justified exercises of federal power in our Nation’s history.” The question is, is Section 5 still needed?

The answer is quite obvious, particularly after the 2012 elections where blatant voter suppression attempts dominated much of the election’s media coverage. Since 2001, as the National Conference for State Legislatures reports, nearly 1,000 voter ID laws were introduced in 46 states, placing burdens on senior citizens, people of color, those with disabilities, poor and lower-income voters, and students.  In 2012, researchers at the University of Chicago and Washington University estimated that the country’s voter ID laws alone could suppress overall turnout to the tune of about 700,000 young people of color.  Section 5 helps prevent laws like these from taking effect.  Just last year, ProPublica reports that Section 5 helped the Justice Department restrict a reduction in voting hours, block voter ID laws in two states, and void newly redistricted maps in another. 

Critics of Section 5 argue that Section 2 of the VRA still provides legal redress for discrimination.  True.  But this “alternative” is troubling for two reasons.  First, the burden falls on the plaintiff in Section 2, meaning that costly litigation must be pursued to block a proposed change and will thus be less likely to be pursued when the changes are small, like moving polling places, cutting voting hours, or leaving a language off of a ballot.  Second, legislators are finding more insidious ways to try and evade detection of discriminatory practices.  In Texas, for example, the redistricting commission “consciously replaced many of the district’s active Hispanic voters with low-turnout Hispanic voters in an effort to strengthen the voting power of CD 23’s Anglo citizens.  In other words, they sought to reduce Hispanic voters’ ability to elect without making it look like anything in CD 23 had changed.”  As long as it is politically expedient to block a group from voting, political actors will try and do so. 

In the past century, Section 5 of the VRA has transformed this country’s political landscape. And in an act of brash judicial activism the Supreme Court has erased decades of progress and erected a hurdle that is guaranteed to make it harder for minorities to vote, easier to dilute voter strength through insidious redistricting, and make it more challenging to elect inspiring Asian American, black, and Hispanic leaders to local, state, and national offices. Our attention must now turn to Congress to rewrite the coverage formula under Section 4.  The strength of our representative democracy depends on it.

Rock the (Naturalized) Vote

Our pals over at CSII were kind enough to provide these awesome maps of newly naturalized citizens, a group that is particularly interested in immigration policy and yet whose registration rates are still lagging.  The states highlighted here have huge potential for increasing their registration and turnout rates.  And that could have a big impact on elections in both 2014 and 2016!

Yesterday’s CIR Senate Vote

For those of you interested in which Republicans voted “Aye” for cloture on the Senate immigration bill yesterday, here is the breakdown, courtesy of AP.

The 67-27 roll call Monday by which the Senate motion agreed to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.

A “yes” vote is a vote to pass the measure.

Voting yes were 50 Democrats, 15 Republicans and 2 independents.

Voting no were 0 Democrats and 27 Republicans.

Democrats Yes

Baldwin, Wis.; Baucus, Mont.; Begich, Alaska; Bennet, Colo.; Blumenthal, Conn.; Boxer, Calif.; Cantwell, Wash.; Cardin, Md.; Carper, Del.; Casey, Pa.; Coons, Del.; Cowan, Mass.; Donnelly, Ind.; Durbin, Ill.; Feinstein, Calif.; Franken, Minn.; Gillibrand, N.Y.; Hagan, N.C.; Harkin, Iowa; Heinrich, N.M.; Heitkamp, N.D.; Hirono, Hawaii; Johnson, S.D.; Kaine, Va.; Klobuchar, Minn.; Landrieu, La.; Leahy, Vt.; Levin, Mich.; Manchin, W.V.; McCaskill, Mo.; Menendez, N.J.; Merkley, Ore.; Mikulski, Md.; Murphy, Conn.; Murray, Wash.; Nelson, Fla.; Pryor, Ark.; Reed, R.I.; Reid, Nev.; Rockefeller, W.V.; Schatz, Hawaii; Schumer, N.Y.; Shaheen, N.H.; Stabenow, Mich.; Tester, Mont.; Udall, N.M.; Warner, Va.; Warren, Mass.; Whitehouse, R.I.; Wyden, Ore.

Democrats Not Voting

Brown, Ohio; Udall, Colo.

Republicans Yes

Alexander, Tenn.; Ayotte, N.H.; Chiesa, N.J.; Collins, Maine; Corker, Tenn.; Flake, Ariz.; Graham, S.C.; Hatch, Utah; Heller, Nev.; Hoeven, N.D.; Kirk, Ill.; McCain, Ariz.; Murkowski, Alaska; Rubio, Fla.; Wicker, Miss.

Republicans No

Barrasso, Wyo.; Blunt, Mo.; Boozman, Ark.; Burr, N.C.; Coats, Ind.; Coburn, Okla.; Cochran, Miss.; Cornyn, Texas; Crapo, Idaho; Cruz, Texas; Fischer, Neb.; Grassley, Iowa; Inhofe, Okla.; Johanns, Neb.; Johnson, Wis.; McConnell, Ky.; Moran, Kan.; Paul, Ky.; Portman, Ohio; Risch, Idaho; Roberts, Kan.; Scott, S.C.; Sessions, Ala.; Shelby, Ala.; Thune, S.D.; Toomey, Pa.; Vitter, La.

Republicans Not Voting

Chambliss, Ga.; Enzi, Wyo.; Isakson, Ga.; Lee, Utah

Independents Yes

King, Maine; Sanders, Vt.

All In On Immigration Reform

by Tyler Reny

Last night, Chris Hayes offered a really good inside look at the current politics behind immigration reform.  As Hayes says, it all comes down to House Speaker Boehner.  Will he violate the Hastert Rule and bring an immigration bill to the floor to vote on without a majority of support from his own party, and risk losing his own job as speaker?  Or will he take a stand against his base in favor of the establishment donor class?

Well worth watching the clip here to see where the politics currently stand on CIR:

CIR Offers GOP Chance to Repair Image with Latino Voters

by Tyler Reny

A new post from Sylvia Manzano over at Latino Decisions highlights how much the GOP stands to gain, and lose, over immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. 

Over half of Latino voters (52%) have voted for GOP candidates in the past, and 43% are open to voting for the Republican Party if they take a leadership role in advancing CIR inclusive of a path to citizenship. There is an important caveat though — they must actually pass the bill in order to open a door with the Latino electorate. The Republican Party will not be rewarded simply for trying to pass a bill if their party also blocks it. We find the GOP will further damage their dismal standing with Latino voters if they block or otherwise thwart the effort that has enjoyed significant bi-partisan support among elected officials and the national electorate. Specifically, 41% of Latino voters will feel even less favorable toward the party if they take such actions.

Check out the entire post here.

Will Republicans Embrace Immigration Reform?

by Tyler Reny

As with public support for so many policies, language matters.  New polling from Brookings Institute confirms that how you phrase a pathway to citizenship proposal greatly increases or decreases support for the initiative, particularly among self-identified Republicans.  While the visual is pretty awful, as highlighted by Columbia Statistician Andrew Gelman’s comment, “My first step on immigration reform is to deport whoever made that graph,” the information is crucial to understanding how to frame issues to appeal to the public.  It seems that maybe, this time around, immigration may not be stymied by cries of “amnesty” from talk radio hosts despite all their attempts to sink the bill.


Conservative Elites Bolster Immigration Reform

by Tyler Reny

            Immigration reform may have been swallowed up over the last week by coverage of the sequester and D.C. dysfunction, but it has hardly disappeared.  In fact, the immigration reform bill is marching steadily forward.  Two weeks ago, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came to an agreement on managing the entry of low-skilled workers into the U.S., clearing an important roadblock for reform.  Equally as important, Scott Walker, the firebrand conservative Governor of Wisconsin, came out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.  Walker joined the growing ranks of conservative voices and Tea Party heroes calling for, or amenable towards, a path to citizenship: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Sean Hannity.  This growing chorus of consensus from conservative elites offers the best hope yet for eventual passage of a comprehensive reform bill.

            Political science research shows that the way that elected officials talk about immigrants and immigration matters, elite cues, help set the tone of the debate, are the most common source of news for the mass media, and have the potential to alter public opinion. In other words, the tacit support from “thought leaders” and political elites in the Republican Party has the potential to temper its nativist wing and open some space for wary congress members to vote for a comprehensive bill. 

            Danny Hayes, a political scientist at George Washington University, examined elite cues during the last immigration debate (2005-2007), and found that the chief voices of restrictive legislation were primarily Republican Congress members (amplified many times by certain influential media actors) and the chief sources of “welcoming frames” were immigrants themselves. 

            The 2013 debate has been different.  The Tea Party and conservative thought leaders mentioned above are joined by bi-partisan “gangs” in the Senate and the House, a strong DREAMer movement, and a new coalition of church leaders, law enforcement, and business interests, “Bibles, Badges, and Business,” all loudly trumpeting the positive immigrant and immigration frames.  Indeed, Micah Cohen, writing for FiveThirtyEight, has already found some evidence that opinion towards immigrants from GOP rank and file might be improving.

            This isn’t to say that the anti-immigrant frame has disappeared.  It hasn’t.  Border security and the rule of law are still dominant concerns of most GOP House members and constituents, many who consider a path to citizenship to be just as extreme as mass-deportation.

            And immense political hurdles still remain.  Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to prioritize an immigration bill once the “octogang” has completed its work, a comprehensive bill faces major headwind in the GOP controlled House, where a majority of conservative members are from primarily white districts, the chair of the crucial Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), has received an A+ rating from a national leading anti-immigrant group, NumbersUSA, and leadership would be unlikely to bring a bill to the floor without a majority of support from the Republican caucus (though House Speaker Boehner has already violated the “Hastert Rule” several times this session).

            The hurdles for comprehensive immigration reform are numerous but support from some members of the conservative wing of the Republican Party is a promising sign of progress.  As long as Congress can pass a bill before August recess, where immigration reform could become death panels—as Congress members are already starting to see in angry town halls—the chance of reform is real. 

(update: Scott Walker has since “clarified" his support for comprehensive immigration reform, showing just how contentious support for such a bill can be.)

The Obama Immigration Bill Decoy

by Tyler Reny

After spending all last week writing about how Obama’s best strategy surrounding the immigration reform debate is to stay out of it all together, I was quite surprised this weekend when news came out that the administration’s reform plan was “leaked,” and published by USA Today.  The President has made reference, several times, to this plan, most notably in the comically naïve sentence from his Las Vegas immigration speech on January 29th:

“And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.”

If only it were that easy.

But back to the plan.  To nobody’s surprise, many Republican leaders immediately balked at the proposal from the White House.  Rubio called the bill “half-baked and seriously flawed” and, if it were to make it to Congress, it would be “dead on arrival.” Sen. Rand Paul says that the Obama plan shows that he is not “serious” about passing immigration reform.  Rep. Paul Ryan posited that Obama is “looking for a partisan advantage and not a bipartisan solution.”

With all this backlash expected, why would the President’s advisors risk it?  Eugene Robinson, writing in today’s Washington Post, has a very compelling theory: Obama’s immigration plan is a decoy to draw fire from Republicans to provide them cover to support a less “liberal” bi-partisan proposal.  Even one with a path to citizenship in it!

"The problem is that Republicans have spent years demonizing undocumented immigrants as a way of appealing to xenophobic, jingoistic sentiment. So how can members of Congress switch from “these people are a plague” to “these people are welcome to stay” without facing the ire of the party’s activist base?

Enter the president’s draft proposal, which administration officials described as a “backup” plan that Obama may put forward if Congress is not able to reach agreement.

It’s really not much different from what Rubio’s group is talking about. But Republicans can slam Obama’s plan as some sort of Kenyan-socialist-inspired abdication of sovereignty. They can blast the provisions on border security as laughable. They can describe the absence of a real plan for reforming the legal immigration process as slapdash, or unserious, or whatever they want to call it.

Republicans in the Senate can line up instead behind a bill that Rubio’s Group of Eight eventually produces; even Paul, a tea party favorite, has indicated he could vote for reform as long as he had more than “a promise from President Obama” on border security. And if enough contrast can be drawn between a Senate proposal and Obama’s plan, perhaps even a significant number of House Republicans can be brought along — if not a majority, then enough to convince Speaker John Boehner to allow an up-or-down vote.”

UPDATE: Mark Krikorian, executive director of CIS, one of the leading anti-immigrant “think-tanks” in the country is arguing the same thing.

And now Benjy Sarlin from TPM has joined them.

Obama Barely Touched Immigration in His Speech, but That’s a Good Thing

Originally published in The Next America

by Tyler Reny

Given that immigration reform is shaping up to be one of the key legislative legacies of President Obama’s second term, many were surprised when the president devoted just five short paragraphs, 210 words (out of more than 6,400, or 3 percent), to the bill in his State of the Union address this week. Many immigration advocates took to Twitter to complain that he didn’t do more to “convince” the public and Congress to support a bill.

The problem with this complaint is twofold. First, the president has almost absolutely no ability to move public opinion. Second, the success of an immigration bill actually depends on the president’s ability to remove himself from the debate and disassociate his name from the bill.

First, let’s discuss the bully pulpit. Richard Neustadt, perhaps the preeminent scholar on the presidency, wrote in his 1960 book Presidential Power that “the power of the presidency is the power to persuade.”

Over the last 50 years, Neustadt’s words have become conventional wisdom among Americans, reporters, and especially among presidents themselves. Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, tried hard to rally the country behind his policy agenda from his bully pulpit. Bill Clinton made hundreds of appearances during his presidency to move public opinion, particularly on health care. George W. Bush embarked on a 60-day tour, “Conversations on Social Security,” to sell his Social Security privatization plan.

Obama, too, believes in the persuasive power of the presidency. When asked by Charlie Rose what he thought his biggest mistake was of his first term, he said he didn’t try hard enough to tell the right story to the American people.

Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom is wrong. In 1993, when George Edwards III, the distinguished political science professor at Texas A&M, began looking into the persuasive powers of the presidency, he found surprising evidence (or lack thereof). Contrary to common wisdom, he found a sitting president can help set an agenda but has very little ability to move public opinion.

Edwards first looked at Reagan (again, remember that Reagan has been compared to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of America’s greatest orators) and concluded that, contrary to widely held beliefs, Reagan was not a persuasive president.

Polling shows that public support for programs that the president opposed (welfare, urban problems, environmental protection, etc.) increased while the president was in office, and those that he supported (defense expenditures, aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua) decreased. In other words, “people were less persuaded by Reagan when he left office than they were when he took office.”

Reagan, it turns out, was not alone in his inability to move public opinion. After Clinton’s barnstorming tour, his popularity tanked, his health care bill died, and his party lost control of the House. Bush’s 60-day tour occurred simultaneously with plummeting support for the privatization of Social Security, forcing him to abandon the issue altogether. And the more Obama took to public forums to sell his health care bill, the more its popularity fell.

Tuesday’s State of the Union, considered by many to be the ultimate annual “persuasive” speech of any president’s tenure, was no different. A Gallup study of 30 years of polling data found that State of the Union addresses “rarely affect a president’s public standing in a meaningful way.

George Edwards has convincingly shown that the conventional wisdom is wrong. The rhetorical presidency is an appealing and enduring theme in the collective American understanding of politics, but it is more fiction than fact. Immigration activists need not worry that the president didn’t push hard enough for immigration reform in his speech. He wouldn’t have gotten too far.

But the president is avoiding a full push on immigration reform for a more critical reason. With incipient bipartisan support for an immigration bill, the fastest way for the president to kill the bill is to have his name attached to it. As The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein put it, “by staying out, at least for now, the Obama administration is making it easier for Republicans to stay in.”

Frances Lee, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, suggests in her book Beyond Ideology “that presidential persuasion might actually have an anti-persuasive effect on the opposing member of Congress.”

This seems to have materialized in Republican obstruction to nearly every one of Obama’s priorities in his first term. But more importantly, in a divided government, the president’s aggressive leadership on a bill increases partisanship and decreases the probability that a bill will pass Congress.

Polling already shows that when Obama’s name is attached to a path to citizenship, support for it drops from 70 percent (when asked in the abstract if the proposal was favored) to 59 percent (when the pollster mentioned that Obama has proposed the measure). As The Post's Chris Cillizza put it, “Republicans don’t mind the idea in theory but loathe it when attached to Obama.”

Obama’s strategy with immigration reform will reflect these political truths. As House Speaker John Boehnerpointed out to reporters, the president getting involved in the bill’s details will only be getting “in the way.”

If this bill becomes Obama’s immigration bill, it will scare off congressional Republicans—and without them, a deal is unlikely to happen.

So, no, the president didn’t spend much time discussing immigration reform, but for good reason. His involvement in the process would scare Republicans away. And he wouldn’t be able to move public opinion anyway. Immigration activists shouldn’t fret about his approach; it’s the best hope we have.

Tyler Reny has studied and lived in Barcelona, Spain, and Buenos Aires, Argentina; interned for Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, in Washington; researched state welfare policy for the Rockefeller Institute in Albany; and now manages research and evaluation and crafts the social media presence for the New American Leaders Project. He graduated summa cum laude from Skidmore College and plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in political science.