A new report released by the Donors of Color Action Network in partnership with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee defies some of the common narratives about the electability of candidates of color. 2020 was a historic year for Black candidates with several groundbreaking wins in state legislative races.
On the state level, T’wina Nobles is the first Black Senator to serve in the Washington state Senate since 2010. Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones became the first openly gay Black lawmaker in the Florida Senate. The Florida state House added some powerful additions to the freshman class, including Reps. Angie Nixon, Travaris McCurdy, and Michele K. Rayner-Goolsby.
From the report, legislative candidates of color had a higher win rate (75.2 percent) in 2020 than the overall Democratic win rate (54.39 percent) and the white Democratic win rate (46.1 percent). Additionally, the study found that in 2020, 1,397 Democratic candidates of color ran for state legislative offices, showing an increase from the 1,172 people of color who ran as Democrats in 2018.
Out of 804 Black Democratic candidates, 612 won their elections with a win rate of 76.1 percent. Black and other candidates of color who ran as Republicans had a much lower win rate based on the report.
Ashinidi Maxton, the executive director of the Donors of Color Action Network, shared some insights with NewsOne. Maxton said the organizations came together to figure out how to shift systems toward racial justice.
“This was the most diverse candidate of state legislators ever elected,” declared Maxton.
The findings reflect America’s demand for change and its cry for equal representation in state houses across the U.S. It also negates “the longstanding narratives about electability and white candidates being more viable than candidates of color,” the organizations suggest.
“That win rate for candidates of color and state-led races, you know, is an externality of the work of many partners, like many people who put work, especially grassroots organizing groups,” Maxton explained.
She highlighted organizations like the Latino Victory Fund, the Collective PAC, and the NAACP to mobilize diverse coalitions of voters across the country. The story of 2020 has overlooked this important shift.
With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting communities of color at disproportionate rates coupled with its devastating economic impact, now is the time to fight for more diversity within state legislatures.
“if you can change the makeup of the bodies,” began Maxton. “But to be reflective of the population of the state, you can dramatically transform the country in all of the ways that make it better. That makes it live up to its ideals.” She explained that reflective state legislatures could lead to racial justice, improved guidance around public health issues like COVID-19, protecting reproductive rights, to name a few.
Even with the significant strides in racial and gender equality in recent years, the house still largely remains white and male. So, what’s causing the big gap?
This could be due to the systemic barriers that often stifle candidates of color to run for seats in the Senate or even successfully pass laws. One such barrier highlighted by the organization is that “most state legislatures in the country do not offer full-time or competitive salaries, creating a gap in who can afford to serve and run.”
Another challenge is campaign funding, with candidates often left to fund their own campaigns, receiving little to no investments from outside donors. This is why prioritizing funding for these races is crucial in ensuring that a diverse group of candidates can afford to make it to the ballot and eventually into office.
Both groups propose their Power Fund initiative to help aspiring candidates of color with direct support. The program will aid in funding organizations led by people of color and ingenious communities with attention to women of color-led initiatives.
A part of this workaround funding includes a pledge to allocate at least 30% of their overall 2020 budget to spend in communities of color and indigenous communities or on behalf of candidates of color and their communities. Also, they will assist in building leadership to ensure that all vendors, consultants, and partner organizations are either owned by people of color or include people of color in senior leadership roles with substantive decision-making.
Maxton says changing the landscape is extremely doable. “If you want to strengthen democracy, if you care about women’s rights, if you care about racial justice, this is a problem happening in every single state house that is actually within our control to change,” Maxton concluded.
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