CBC Mainstays Challenged

Longtime lawmakers face new competition for posts they’ve served in for years.

A trend appears to be emerging as we look toward the 2012 elections and it seems to be happening right under our noses. Some of the most loyal and trusted members of the Congressional Black Caucus establishment are now bracing to compete for positions they’re typically shoe-ins for.

Black lawmakers being challenged in an election year may not exactly be breaking news. But it is at least worth noting that it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a substantial number of CBC A-listers have to actually campaign for their seats. 

Granted, re-districting has become an issue for members like Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Rep. Laura Richardson (D-California) and Rep. William Clay (D-Missouri).

But a band of new blood is taking aim at seats held by the likes of Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York), Rep. Donald Payne (D-New Jersey), Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-New York) and Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia).

Why some of the more seasoned Black lawmakers are being challenged at this time is anyone’s guess.  But some political watchers are pointing to inspiration from President Obama’s unconventional, even meteoric rise to power as a source of inspiration for congressional hopefuls.

Brian Taylor, political consultant and former CBC staffer said, “Some of these CBC members have been there forever and Obama challenged the system without having the African-American establishment behind him.”

One other motivating factor is the general discontent the electorate has been having about the way that Congress is doing, or not doing, its job. The latest statistics from Real Clear Politics, which periodically compiles an average of several polls, found that Congress’ approval rating is only 12 percent.

“The perception is that they simply are not doing a whole lot, so these challenges may be telling us that there needs to be fresh blood and if not now, then when?" queried Taylor.

Between Conyers, Rangel and Lewis alone, they have a combined 114 years of service in Congress. 

“A lot of people have gotten to the point that they’ve gotten comfortable and don’t want to let it go. They’re at the top of the heap, so sometimes there’s not a desire to look beyond that,” says Taylor.

The fact remains that the top-tier lawmakers in question have incredible track-records and wield a considerable amount of influence on some of the most powerful committees and sub-committees in Congress. But if a newbie was somehow able to take their place, hard-won power would be lost.    

There are some who believe that in the interest of adding new perspective to the mix, that’s a risk worth taking. “To be clear, I’m not saying these longtime members are not needed and their time has passed. If they are no longer in office, it does come at a loss. But you can’t have gain without loss. At the end of the day, you can’t stay in office forever,” said Taylor.

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(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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