PHOTO BY: Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
By Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Senator-elect Doug Jones, who won his heated Alabama Senate race against Roy Moore – largely due to Black voters – is being pressed “to commit to hiring a staff that reflects his constituents’ racial diversity,” according to a Dec. 19 letter to Jones from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and 16 other organizations.
“As you prepare to staff your local and Washington, DC offices, we believe it is vital that you do so with a recognition of the profound lack of racial diversity that currently exists among staff in the U.S. Senate. We urge you to commit to making diversity a priority in hiring,” the letter states. The letter gives the following recommendations:
- Embrace the “[Dan] Rooney Rule” and interview at least one person of color for every senior position in your office;
- Commit to hiring diverse candidates throughout your offices to ensure that the demographics of your office reflect the demographics of Alabama and America;
- Commit to hiring at least one person of color for a senior staff position in your Washington office, defined as chief of staff, legislative director, and communications director.
Jones, a Democrat, won the hotly contested race against accused child molester Republican Roy Moore Dec. 12. Election analysts say he won more of the Black vote (approximately 96 percent) in Alabama than President Barack Obama in his 2012 re-election.The letter was not sent to Jones just because of his large Black constituency.
The Joint Center, a non-partisan organization, has long pushed for more African-American staff members on Capitol Hill simply because of the value that diversity adds.“As a new Member of the U.S. Senate, you have an opportunity to show your constituents that not only do their voices matter, but that their experiences and skills are vital to the work that you do to represent them,” the letter states. “Ensuring racial diversity among your staff would enhance the deliberation, innovation, legitimacy, and outcomes of your office and of the Senate as a whole. Hiring at least one person of color to your senior staff in Washington would speak loudly, and we ask that you do so among the qualified applicants that you will receive. Members of Congress cannot fully represent all the communities they were elected to serve without advisors that reflect the whole of America.”
The letter reminded Jones of the so-called “Rooney Rule”, a National Football League policy initiated by Pittsburgh Steelers patriarch Dan Rooney. The rule requires NFL teams to interview racial minority candidates for senior jobs.“As you may know, earlier this year the Senate Democratic Caucus adopted the Rooney Rule, a commitment to interviewing at least one person of color for senior staff positions. We ask that you embrace this caucus rule and interview people of color for senior positions in your respective offices,” the letter states.
The Joint Center initiative for increased hiring in the U.S. Senate started in 2016 after a 2015 Joint Center study titled “Racial Diversity Among Top Senate Staff.” It concluded, “In a nation that was 36 percent minority, just 7.1 percent of senior Senate staffers, defined then as chief of staff, legislative director, communications director, and committee staff director, were people of color.”
The Joint Center, headed by President Spencer Overton, has also concluded, “Diversity remains a problem for both major parties. For example, African Americans account for 23% of Democratic voters, but just 1% of Democratic top Senate staff. In many states, African Americans account for an even greater share of Democratic votes. Based on exit poll analysis of the December 2017 Alabama U.S. Senate race, for example, African Americans accounted for over 55% of the votes cast for Democrat Doug Jones.”
Among the 16 additional organizations signing the letter are the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; National Action Network; NAACP; National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; and the National Urban League.
“As a new Member of the U.S. Senate, you have an opportunity to show your constituents that not only do their voices matter, but that their experiences and skills are vital to the work that you do to represent them,” the letter concludes. “Ensuring racial diversity among your staff would enhance the deliberation, innovation, legitimacy, and outcomes of your office and of the Senate as a whole. Hiring at least one person of color to your senior staff in Washington would speak loudly, and we ask that you do so among the qualified applicants that you will receive.”