The last rounds of federal
redistricting presented some intriguing dilemmas
around the country for both congressional incumbents
and shifting constituent demographics.
Southern California was in the grave position of having
no net gains in congressional seats since the
national census has been kept, despite a statewide
population growth of nearly 7 million from the previous
census in 2000.
Seats shifted to Central and Northern California
and, as a result, districts had to be collapsed (combined)
in Southern California. One such incidence
was the merging of Cong. Laura Richardson’s 37th
district with Cong. Janice Hahn’s 36th district for a
newly created 44th congressional district in the South
Bay area. It is a scenario whereby two incumbents are
running against each other. Both have their supporters
and detractors, like in any campaign. Neither has
a natural claim to the seat, as both will end up representing
both new constituents and part of their old
constituent bases.
A troubling scenario has evidenced itself in this
race, however–the potential loss of African
American congressional representation. It’s an issue
people are talking about, but afraid to raise. The evaporation
of African American political leadership is not
something to be taken in such a casual or cavalier
manner. The struggle to keep four African American
congresspersons has been a long one. There’s only one
in all of Northern California. Southern California has
three now, but for decades there was only one,
Augustus Hawkins, and he looked White.
The 1980 census, and a federal lawsuit against historical
racial gerrymandering produced the second
seat, and the 1990 census produced the potential for
the third seat, which was secured by the late Juanita
Millender McDonald, and was preserved in the 2000
census. While there has been a demography shift
over the past 30 years in communities where Blacks
used to live, the political empowerment has held as
an important staple in diversity politics in Congress.
None of the current African American congresswomen
represents majority African American districts,
but Black representation in Congress is too difficult
to come by. Nobody wants to raise the issue out
of fear of it being said that they played “the race
card.” Will somebody pleeeasse tell me what the race
card is, other than a tactic to get people to stop talking
about race altogether while racism recasts itself.
America’s got race fatigue, but it seems to have
never gotten racism fatigue. People have stopped
talking about race. And only whisper about racism
when it occurs in its most obvious forms.
The collapsing of Richardson’s and Hahn’s districts
was not about race or racism. The same thing is happening
across town with Howard Berman and Brad
Sherman, two well-entrenched politicos who have
fallen victim to the same redistricting process. It’s not
about race, religion or national origin. It’s just political
reality. So, why raise the Black empowerment
aspect? Because it appears that games are being
played with the seat in the African American community.
People don’t want to raise that issue either.
Well, I’m raising it. First, in full disclosure, both
Richardson and Hahn are my friends. I’ve known
Janice longer, almost 25 years since our infamous
meeting with her appointment as the general manager
of the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Mall.
Her father was, of course, the legendary Kenneth
Hahn, the four-decade county supervisor for whom
the Hall of Administration is named. Janice still refers
to the second supervisorial seats as her father’s seat.
Kenny Hahn was, of course, an honorary African
American and as close to the Black community as an
elected official can get. Both of his children–former
mayor, Jim Hahn and Janice–have cashed in on their
father’s name and seemingly endless political capital,
even beyond the grave. We became friends out of that
Baldwin Hills confrontation and frequently joke about
the encounter over the years.
I’ve known Laura for about six years since she ran
for the California Assembly. She is of biracial lineage,
but is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus
which to me makes her African American–has a sincere
demeanor and has been the underdog in every
race she has run. She won because she is known for
“delivering for her constituents,” something few politicians
are known for anymore. Black politicians think
they’re celebrities instead of policymakers.
Laura doesn’t present herself that way, which caused
us to bond. Laura’s race to Congress has been meteoric,
going from Long Beach City Council to the state
Legislature to Congress in less than two years. In her
four years in Congress, she has been the victim of some
bad press and bogus allegations. Bad press does not a
good heart make, of which I will be the first to attest.
We are not who they say we are … we are what we
show we are. The truth is in the pudding, not the deceit.
Laura has shown us something entirely different
than what the press has said. And because of the bad
press, we have people in the Black community trying
to either leverage her or flip her–both schemes for
opportunists–and seem almost willing to concede a
congressional seat for personal politics games.
Personal politics has destroyed communities in
Southern California, and now it threatens to destroy a
congressional seat, that if it goes away will never come
back. People are holding the seat hostage for two
Assembly seats. Gaining four Black Assembly seats
won’t be worth losing one Black congressional member.
This is a seat the Black community must hold if it
is in their power to hold. Their issues with Laura
should be discussed, mediated and can be negotiated.
Losing a Black congressional seat is non-negotiable.
That’s why I’m supporting Laura.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist,
managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.
com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ:
Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He
can be reached at or on Twitter at
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