When the 115th Congress takes office in Jan. 2017, it will be the most diverse in history.
“At last, Congress is beginning to look more like the population it represents,” said Dr. Brooks Simpson, Arizona State University Foundation Professor of History. “Especially, in terms of the democratic representation in both houses of Congress.”
In the next legislative session, there will be a record number of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans, as well as, a record four women of color in the Senate, including the first Latina senator.
“As we have a much broader electorate and a much more diverse society, it stands to reason that both houses of congress would start to reflect that in its composition,” Simpson explained. “Though it’s still primarily a white-male set of representatives.”
Simpson added that diversity used to mean men versus women and black versus white.
“Once upon a time, both houses of Congress, I think, represented white male interests and didn’t consider the interests of other groups,” he said. “And we could see that, for example, [in] confirmations hearings.”
Simpson explained that it was similar to the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing when he was nominated to the Supreme Court. Toward the end of the hearings, a former employee of Thomas’s named Anita Hill presented allegations of sexual harassment to the panel.
“A lot of the people on that Senate panel simply had no idea of what people were talking about, because they were white males,” Simpson said.
Now the term diversity means more.
“We now define diversity much more broadly in terms of religious belief, sexual preference, as well as multiple ethnic groups,” he said.
Diversity is important, because it brings different perspectives to the process, Simpson added.
“Americans who are debating our laws and where the country should go,” he explained. “That debate should reflect the diversity in this country.”
More diversity in Congress as a trend is likely to continue, he said.
“I think that’s going to increase as our population becomes even more diverse over time,” he said. “And that’s going to lead to a different set of discussions down the road.”
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