By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor
With the largest Congressional Black Caucus in history along with a historic number of women entering the U.S. House in 2019, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has announced plans for a new emphasis on staff diversity in the U.S. House. The effort will call attention to the ongoing diversity problem on Capitol Hill. Very few senior staff positions on the Senate side are held by Blacks or Latinos. On the House side of Capitol Hill most staff top positions are employed by member of the CBC. “We know that the diversity in our ranks is a strength and a reflection of the American people,” Pelosi wrote to colleagues last week. She is expected to run for Speaker and lead Democrats once again when the new Congress convenes in January. A new House Diversity Initiative would create a permanent office in the House with sufficient staff to help recruit and retain diverse employees according to staff. Much of the pressure over the last few years regarding the diversity issue on Capitol Hill has come as a result of study and effort by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies headed by Spencer Overton. The Joint Center applauded Pelosi’s letter to her Democratic House colleagues emphasizing the importance of staff diversity. The letter featured several Joint Center recommendations. “Leader Pelosi deserves credit for laying down an early marker on the need to take action to increase top staff diversity in Congress,” said Joint Center President Spencer Overton. “This is a good start, and we look forward to continuing to work with Leader Pelosi to diversify congressional top staff.” Pelosi’s letter encouraged members of Congress to hire diverse staff. She also announced her hope that the Democratic Caucus would formally adopt the Rooney Rule, which requires interviewing at least one person of color for every top staff position. The top positions, or “senior staff” positions in each congressional office are: chief of staff, legislative director, communications director. “The incoming majority of the U.S. House of Representatives will be the most diverse in our nation’s history,” said Don Bell, Director of the Black Talent Initiative at the Joint Center. “Leader Pelosi’s letter is a good beginning toward the work ahead to ensure that the senior and mid-level staff of the U.S. House reflect the diversity of America.” The Joint Center published a report in September 2018 that found that although people of color account for 38 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only 13.7 percent of the top staffers of the U.S. House of Representatives (161 out of 1174 top staffers). Nine new members of the Black Caucus will likely include Lucy McBath (GA-06), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Lauren Underwood (IL14), Steven Horsford (NV-04), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Colin Allred (TX-32), Illhan Omar (MN-08) and Jahanna Hayes (CT-02). There will also likely be five new African American full committee Chairmen and Chairwomen when the new Congress convenes in January.
Sen.-elect Doug Jones (AL) announced on Tuesday that he has hired Dana Gresham as his chief of staff, which will make him the only Democratic senator to have an African-American in that position.
Gresham, a Birmingham native, has served in leadership roles in presidential administrations and for members of Congress. He led the Legislative Affairs Office at the Department of Transportation during all eight years of the Obama administration and has also worked on Capitol Hill for 14 years. He previously served as chief of staff for Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama. He also worked in the congressional offices of Bud Cramer of Alabama and Eva Clayton of North Carolina.
The two other Black chiefs of staff in the U.S. Senate both work for Republicans—Jennifer DeCasper in the office of Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and Brennan Britton in the office of Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS).
Although African Americans account for 23% of Democratic voters, before this announcement they accounted for just 1% of top Democratic Senate staff, both of whom are legislative directors (Clint Odom in Senator Harris’s office and Roscoe Jones in Senator Feinstein’s office). According to a 2016 report from Roll Call, only 5 percent of nearly 3,600 Senate staffers are Black.
Jones also announced three other senior staff hires Tuesday, including Mark Libell as legislative director, Ann Berry as transition adviser and Katie Campbell as deputy legislative director. All three are Alabama natives and have extensive experience working for Senators and House members.
“Today I’m proud to announce that we have recruited four outstanding individuals to join our team,” Jones said in a statement. “Each of them possesses long and impressive careers in public service, and as Alabama natives, share my commitment to the people of our state.”
The Joint Center for Political And Economic Studies, a Washington D. C. think-tank, which last week had urged Senator-elect Jones to employ a diverse staff was quick to commend his actions. Don Bell, Director of the Black Talent Initiative for the Joint Center said, “ We commend Senator-elect Jones for his leadership and commitment to diversity. This is an important moment in the movement to make the Senate truly representative of all Americans. The Joint Center looks forward to continuing to work with Senator-elect Jones as he makes diversity a priority in building the rest of his staff.”
Senator-elect Doug Jones will be filling other positions in his Washington D. C. office and district offices in the state and welcomes applicants to submit their resumes to: senatordougjonestransition.com.