Congressional Freshman Class Adds New Faces of Color

Congress picked up five new minority members in the November elections, including two that cannot vote.

Ohio elected Black and Filipino American members of Congress and New Mexico chose its first Hispanic member since 1997.

In a bittersweet victory, Democrat Marcia Fudge became Congress’ newest Black member, as she replaced the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, who died after suffering a brain aneurysm in August. Fudge, 55, is a lawyer and mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio who served as Jones’ chief of staff in 1999 when she first came to Capitol Hill.

Fudge was elected to both a new term on Nov. 4 and then — unopposed — on Nov. 18 to fill out the last few months of Jones’ current term. She is one of 42 members of the Congressional Black Caucus — two of whom are non-voting delegates from Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands. The caucus is down one member with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s resignation after winning the presidential election. That leaves no Black members in the Senate.

“I don’t know I could say it should be (held again by a Black member), but I hope it would be,” says Fudge of Obama’s vacant Senate seat, which will be filled by a gubernatorial appointment. At least two members of the Congressional Caucus — Illinois Democratic Reps. Jessie Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis — are reportedly interested in the post.

“At every level, we have to have some diversity and, certainly, as he was the only African-American member of the Senate, I would hope we would have another,” Fudge adds. “I’m one of 55 new members, and the only African-American in the class.”

Steve Austria, 50, a Filipino American and a Republican who was an Ohio state senator and its majority whip, will serve along side Fudge and Gregorio Sablan, who will serve in a newly created non-voting delegate position from Northern Mariana Island.

There are now 10 Asian American or Pacific Islanders in Congress, according to Victoria Tung, executive director of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Eight are in the House (two are non-voting delegates from Guam and Northern Mariana Island). Two are in the Senate: Hawaii Democratic Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye.

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According to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund, Democrat Ben R. Luján’s election to Congress boosts the number of Hispanic voting members in Congress to 24. Three are in the Senate: Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo. Puerto Rico also elected another Hispanic member — attorney Pedro Pierluisi — to become Congress’ non-voting Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico.

Although New Mexico’s population is 45 percent Hispanic — the highest in the nation, according to the Pew Hispanic Center — there hasn’t been a Hispanic member representing the state in Congress since Bill Richardson left to join President Bill Clinton’s administration in 1997, according to NALEO.

Luján, 36, is public regulation commissioner in New Mexico and a former state treasurer. His father, Ben Luján, is New Mexico’s Speaker of the House.

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