National Voices

Sunday, Sep 23 2012 11:00 PM

GEORGE WILL: US politics hardly stuck in a 'racial stalemate'

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    George Will

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A specter is haunting the congressional Black Caucus, the specter of integration. It is discomforting enough that the now 43-member CBC has included a Republican since 2011, when Florida's Allen West became the first Republican to join the CBC since 1997. South Carolina's Tim Scott, an African-American, also came to Congress in 2011 but declined to join.

And soon a second might move in. There goes the neighborhood.

Mia Love, 37, is running against incumbent Democrat Jim Matheson, 52, in a district created when the 2010 census gave a fourth representative to this booming state -- imagine Utah's growth if the federal government did not own 58 percent of the land.

Love is black, but not African-American. She was born in Brooklyn in 1975 to Haitian immigrants who arrived with $10. On her father's wages as a janitor and a factory worker and her mother's as a housekeeper, she got through the University of Hartford. In Connecticut, she met her husband -- he is a Mormon, as she now is and 62 percent of Utahans are.

Fourteen years ago, they moved to this state, where blacks were about 1 percent of the population before Love arrived and had three children. In 2009, she was elected mayor of Saratoga Springs, a suburb of 18,000 that grew 1,700 percent between its incorporation in 1997 and the housing crash in 2008, after which Mayor Love governed like this: When constituents said they needed a library, she found $10,000 and suggested volunteers do the rest: "I intended to see if they really wanted a library." They have one.

Two-thirds of the voters in the new district have never voted for Matheson, whose home is not in the district. There is, however, no constitutional requirement that a representative live where he runs, and as a sixth-generation Utahan, and the son of a popular two-term governor, he has considerable strengths as he seeks a seventh term.

Utah may be the most Republican state, and Matheson is one of the Democratic congressmen representing especially Republican districts. But Utah has seemed to like having a token Democrat in its delegation in Washington, where Matheson, after graduating from Harvard, worked for Speaker Tip O'Neill. Matheson is a member of the dwindling Blue Dog caucus of moderate Democrats, and voted against Obamacare, cap-and-trade and the DREAM Act immigration measure for children of illegal immigrants. This year he voted to repeal Obamacare (previously he voted against that) but has announced he will vote for Barack Obama.

Love is energetic and eclectically principled: If elected, she surely will be the only House member whose Kindle contains works by Frederic Bastiat, the French free-market thinker who in a satirical 1845 letter asked France's parliament to protect candle makers:

"We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price. ... This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us. ... We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights."

In this, one of the most racially and culturally homogenous states, the only uninteresting thing about Love is that she is black. This is not just progress, it is the destination toward which progress was directed during the brisk march to today's healthy indifference to the fact that Love would be the first black Republican woman ever in the House. Some "stalemate."

In March 2008, in the speech ostensibly explaining the inexplicable -- his 20 years in the pews of the raving Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- candidate Barack Obama referred to "a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years." Hardly.

He was then eight months from winning 43 percent of the white vote -- two points more than John Kerry won four years earlier. Obama carried three states -- three more than Kerry -- of the Confederacy (Florida, Virginia and North Carolina). In states outside the South, Obama received substantially more white votes than any Democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 -- more than Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton or Al Gore. This is part of the "racial stalemate" in which Mississippi has more black elected officials -- not more relative to population; more -- than any other state.

Email George F. Will of The Washington Post at georgewill@washpost.com.

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