In our diverse country, why is the Senate overwhelmingly white?


Picture this: 100 United States Senators–three Latino Americans, one African-American, and one Asian-American. This is the makeup of the new Senate. Only one woman is a person of color—newly elected Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

I am deeply uncomfortable with the fact that the Senate is 95% white. We live in the most diverse America in history and yet Caucasians are disproportionately represented. I know, I know: race does not matter in the President Obama-post-racial society—but seriously, who believes that? The president never said that race does not matter. In fact, he said exactly the opposite in the eloquent speech he delivered in Philadelphia in March 2008.

I don’t agree with Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” approach to solving diversity challenges in Massachusetts, but I do think there is something to be said for making an attempt to diversify. In today’s America, we do not have to look very hard for amazingly qualified potential Senators. Here’s a sampling of them.

Ron Kirk, U.S. trade representative, was the first black mayor of Dallas, from 1995 to 2002. He made an unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate in 2002, but has been able to produce big wins with controversial trade agreements passed by both Houses. Texas going blue certainly strengthens Mr. Kirk’s political hand.

Michelle Obama is the First Lady, fashionista, and Mom-in-Chief–and also a critical part of the president’s “kitchen cabinet” and a key adviser. By focusing on health and military families, Mrs Obama shows a knack for

identifying issues that unite rather than divide us. She has made it abundantlyclear that she doesn’t have political ambitions, but maybe we can draft her!

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland is a congressional leader who is very productive under the radar.  While in the Maryland House of Delegates, he became the first African-American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro Tem.  On Capital Hill, he was widely respected even before his appointment as Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Honorable Kamala Harris was sworn in as the 32nd Attorney General of the State of California on January 3, 2011: the first woman, the first African-American, and the first South Asian to hold the office in the history of California. Prior to her successful bid, she was elected to two terms as District Attorney of San Francisco. In 2012, she served as a Co-Chair for President Obama’s Re-election Campaign and gave a passionate speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, has been both hailed and criticized as the innovative Chancellor of DC Public Schools during the administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty. Rhee established StudentsFirst to address the ongoing education crisis in America. She is also married to the first African-American Mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri is a Methodist minister, Chair of the Civility Caucus, and immediate past Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Every week, he sends civility letters to his congressional colleagues encouraging them to put the American people over partisan politics. To solve housing problems, Rep. Cleaver established the Green Impact Zone in Kansas City, MO, which has quickly become a model for the nation.

Attorney Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, was Mayor of New Orleans for two consecutive terms, leading an impressive economic comeback. He served as the President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and also had a brief stint in the Louisiana State Senate. He has led the National Urban League since 2003.

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, is head of the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. She has been dubbed one of the most powerful women in Washington. Murguía began her career in Washington DC, as legislative counsel on

Capitol Hill and worked for President Bill Clinton as deputy director of legislative affairs.

Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, is a rising star. With his rescues of area residents and his mastery of social media, Booker has made constituent service a 24/7/365 affair.

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke formerly served as Secretary of the Department of Commerce in the first Obama administration. Locke became the first

Chinese-American Governor upon his 1996 election in Washington State.

Diversity of race, gender, economics, geography, education, occupation, and others

belongs in the People’s House and the Upper Chamber. Why–in 2013, as we prepare for another MLK Day, the

second inauguration of the first black president, and another Black History Month–is the Senate still overwhelmingly white? This is not a partisan or political question. This is about patriotism. Establishing a diverse leadership pipeline will give great leaders of all backgrounds an opportunity to serve this country.

Angela Rye is a co-

founder of IMPACT (@TeamIMPACT) and most recently served as the

Executive Director/General Counsel for the Congressional Black Caucus.

In our diverse country, why is the Senate overwhelmingly white?