Thursday, July 2, 2009

Does the Democratic Hierarchy Lack Diversity?

There’s an interesting new article in the latest edition of Campaigns and Elections, the insider magazine for political consultants. Even in the Obama era, the vast majority of consultants in the Democratic Party are still typically white men.

Despite a handful of firsts for African-American consultants over the past two decades—Minyon Moore’s post as political director of the DNC during the 1996 cycle, Donna Brazile’s elevation to campaign manager for Al Gore in 1999, Howard Dean’s naming of Cornell Belcher to the DNC’s top polling post in 2005—several of the black political consultants and operatives interviewed say they still often feel like a suspect class in the eyes of many major campaigns and by some in the party committees. Absent new efforts from within the Democratic Party and from within the black political community itself, they don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

The article explains that most jobs held by African-American strategists within the Democratic establishment are for ethnic-targeting pursuits, often for minority-majority districts. Yet “the reality for many black consultants, says Belcher, is that they can’t speak out against people they want to work for. Too much criticism of the party establishment and the consulting industry carries risks, especially for younger operatives hoping to build a name and a career.”

Furthermore, the American Association of Political Consultants says that of its 1,123 members, only about one-in-five are women.

Luckily, things do appear to be changing, and without any specific efforts to increase diversity on the part of the upper-levels of the Democratic hierarchy.

A new generation of African-American operatives has graduated from the Obama campaign. As they work their way into the elite levels of government and politics, many see a golden opportunity to diversify the top tier of the political industry.

“In the twenty years that I’ve been working in politics, I haven’t seen a time where we’ve had such a deep bench of African-American operatives who can work in politics,” says Steve Hildebrand, who is white and was Obama’s deputy campaign manager in 2008.

Similarly, many in the first wave of black consultants (including Moore and Brazile) came out of the first Jesse Jackson campaign in 1984. With a successful campaign for the nation’s first black president, the advancement of African-American political workers might have another boost in years to come.

And with organizations like EMILY’s List recruiting progressive women for campaigns, the prevalence and prominence of women within the Democratic establishment of consultants may increase soon as well.

Still, some warn that the success of the Obama campaign might tame concerns of minority and female advancement in these ranks. After all, it was an incredibly diverse campaign, but it still had huge numbers of white men within it (granted, it was far more proportional to the demographical make-up of the U.S. than usual).

What’s more, relying on the Obama campaign might not be wise for diversifying the larger Democratic Party. As we mentioned in a previous post, many Obama operatives from 2008 are not so willing to work for politicians other than the current president.

Hopefully, though, the progress some see will continue.

Not too surprisingly, the article had a lot less to say about the demographical trends of GOP consultants.

We recommend reading the entire article here.

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