TriCaucus Says Staff Diversity Increasing
As they await the results of an official study of diversity among House offices, Democratic leaders of the TriCaucus assert there has been a noticeable increase in the mix of aides in majority-run offices during the first few months of the 110th Congress.
“There’s a lot more diversity. We’ve see a lot of progress,” Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in an interview before the House adjourned for its two-week spring recess. “Now it’s a reflection of what our community really looks like.”
In a letter to Democratic leaders in late 2006, the TriCaucus — a coalition of Hispanic, black and Asian Pacific lawmakers — called on the incoming majority to increase the diversity among leadership, committee and individual Member offices in the 110th Congress.
While there are no official statistics on the current makeup of House offices — Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, has commissioned such a survey, but she said it had yet to be completed prior to the April recess — Baca and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said empirical evidence suggests changes have occurred.
“It’s becoming more and more apparent to me. I’m sensitive to diversity,” Honda said in a late-March interview. Kilpatrick declined to comment pending the outcome of the study.
Both Honda and Baca also credited the Democratic leadership for its “inclusiveness,” citing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a woman, as well as House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is black, and the appointment of Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who is Hispanic, to be assistant to the Speaker.
“She’s leading by example,” said Baca, who also pointed to Pelosi’s appointment of Lorraine Miller as Clerk of the House, making her the first black woman to hold that post. “The Democratic Party has always been the part of inclusiveness,” he added.
Honda echoed that sentiment, stating: “There’s much more of an engagement by leadership.” He added that the focus for Members should be not only on high-level jobs, but on all positions: “If we don’t train staff, they never become chiefs of staff.”
Although no formal missives were issued by House Democratic leaders to rank-and-file lawmakers, sources said leadership raised the subject with committee chairmen in late 2006, as the new majority began the process of hiring new staff.
“Speaker Pelosi said to the incoming chairman that she felt that diversity was important for committees,” Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in mid-March. “We had obviously more people to hire, and if you looked at your committee staff and did not see diversity in them, she encouraged us on more than one occasion to do that. From my observation it appears that committee chairpersons heard her.”
In a discussion about the composition of his own committee, Thompson asserted that he considers factors including not only training and experience, but gender, ethnicity and even geography.
“When I came here, diversity on committee staff was virtually nonexistent, with the exception of CBC members,” said Thompson, first elected in 1993, when Democrats last controlled the House. “When we lost control you could really see the numbers go down and I think we owe, as Democrats on the Hill, a debt of gratitude to Hispanic, African-Americans and others who support our party in greater numbers than anybody else.”
To maintain the staff of about four dozen, the committee draws from organizations including the National Bar Association (a group of African-American lawyers) and the Hispanic National Bar Association, as well as relevant agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.
“We’ve not lowered any of our standards to find committee people. I can show you stacks and stacks of résumés of very talented people who want to come and work,” Thompson said, later adding, “You want to find the best people. Obviously, knowledge of the Hill for certain positions is important, but it’s not the sole criteria. The other thing is, you want to look at the job pool to make sure that what you’re doing is in fact something that can add value to the committee, and that’s really in our best interest to look as far and wide as we possibly can.”