January 3, 2005


A dose of diversity in freshman class could alter Congress: Newcomers in both houses could produce more than their share of individual standouts, especially among minorities. (Gail Russell Chaddock, 1/04/05, CS Monitor)

So far, the most heralded newcomer is Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois, who shot to prominence after an eloquent keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Tagged early by the media as the new face of the Democratic Party, Mr. Obama describes himself as "more overexposed than Paris Hilton" - a status he and his staff are playing down whenever possible. Like Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) of New York - the most overexposed freshman of the 108th Congress - he starts with a big ($1.9 million) book deal and huge expectations.

"Mainstream commentators expressed surprise and genuine hope that my victory signaled a broader change in our racial politics," he writes in the new edition of his bestselling "Dreams from My Father." The son of a Kenyan herder and Kansas-born mother, Obama will be only the fifth African-American in the US Senate, two of whom served during Reconstruction. At Harvard Law School, he was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review and has served in the Illinois state Senate since 1997. His Swahili name, Barack, means "blessed."

In addition, the Senate freshman class includes two Hispanics, Ken Salazar (D) of Colorado and Mel Martinez (R) of Florida. Mr. Martinez describes himself as the first US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to have once been homeless. After fleeing communist Cuba as a teenager and growing up in foster homes in Florida, he practiced law and became active in the Cuban expatriate community. In 2001, President Bush tapped him for the cabinet and, later, urged him to run for an open Senate seat in Florida.

Mr. Salazar grew up on a ranch in Colorado that has been in his family since 1850. A fiscal conservative, Salazar backs tougher border controls, conservation, and renewable energy. He and Martinez will be the first Hispanics to serve in the Senate from a state other than New Mexico. His brother, John Salazar, joins the US House as a new member from western Colorado.

As usual, the diversity is even more striking in the House. Incoming Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana will be only the second Indian-American (as in India) member of Congress. A policy prodigy, Mr. Jindal was running Louisiana's health and hospitals agency in his 20s. At 28, he was president of the University of Louisiana, then was appointed by Mr. Bush to be assistant secretary of Health and Human Services in 2001. In 2002, he narrowly missed being elected governor in his first bid for public office.

Pretty funny how the assumption was always that ethnic diversity would move institutions Left...

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 3, 2005 6:35 PM
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