Ga. Could Send 5 Blacks to Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. John Lewis, beaten and jailed in the 1960s in the fight for civil rights, says he could never have imagined Georgia sending five blacks to Congress.

Next January, Lewis could be part of just such a group, the largest black congressional delegation in history. He and four other black candidates are favored in Georgia's elections next month.
Three would represent majority-white districts.

``If someone had told me this years ago, when I was struggling for the right to vote, I would have probably said, 'You're crazy, you're out of your mind,''' Lewis said. ``I thought the day would come when people would participate in all levels of government. But to see a Deep South state — where many of these people couldn't vote a few years ago — voting for many of these candidates didn't even register.''

Along with Lewis and Rep. Sanford Bishop, who are unopposed, three black newcomers are seeking seats from Georgia. David Scott and Charles Walker Jr. are aiming for new districts added because of population increases. Denise Majette defeated black incumbent Cynthia McKinney in a Democratic primary and is the heavy favorite in her district.

``It speaks well of the progress we've made in Georgia,'' said Majette, whose district has a slight black majority.

Of the five, Walker — son of Georgia Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker Sr. — is the only one whose election seems at all closely contested.

Of the 39 current black members of Congress, California and New York each have four. Georgia, Florida and Illinois have three each. Black candidates are running in more than 50 districts on Nov. 5, and that includes five in California. But one of those five, a Republican running against 14-term Rep. George Miller, is given little chance of election.

Georgia's black House candidates, all Democrats, are trumpeting history on the campaign trail.

``It's an extraordinary testimony to the white citizens of Georgia who will look at me and see I'm worthy, not because I'm a black man, but because I'm qualified, prepared and the best candidate,'' Scott said. ``This is a story of both racial groups — a story of great achievements for black Georgians, but an equally great story for white Georgians.''

Although the situation in Georgia is noteworthy, even historic, political observers say it was somewhat predictable. While four of these districts have a majority or near-majority of white residents, they also are predominantly Democratic, giving that party's nominees an advantage. Blacks make up a majority of registered Democratic voters in the primaries that select those nominees.

``The real arena of decision making is the Democratic primary,'' said Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University. ``The losers in that process are white Democrats who want to go to Congress. They really face an enormous battle.''

Michael Binford, a political science professor at Georgia State University, said it's not surprising a Deep South state like Georgia is the place where three black congressmen could represent majority-white districts. Black lawmakers in some other parts of the country are far more likely to represent heavily black districts, he said.

Exceptions include Julia Carson, a black woman who represents a majority-white district in Indianapolis, and former college football star J.C. Watts, the only Republican among current black members of Congress. Watts, whose Oklahoma district has more whites than blacks, isn't seeking re-election.

``It's predominantly a Southern phenomenon,'' Binford said. ``If you look at what's been happening over the last 10 years, white voters are getting more accustomed to black candidates, and black incumbents are becoming a little less unusual.''

There is plenty of diversity among the five Georgians. Lewis is among the most liberal members of Congress, while Bishop is one of the most conservative black members.

Majette got a lot of Republican help in her primary against McKinney, and state Sen. Scott has many GOP friends since sponsoring a school ``moment of silence'' law.

``Georgia has had a legacy of being racially polarized, starting from the time of slavery,'' Walker said. ``We're showing Georgia is rapidly transitioning into a major part of the new South, that it's progressive.''