Southern Politics

By Gordon Kenna

Vol. 1, No. 4, 1979, pp. 23

Traditionally the South, more than any other region, has maintained remarkable continuity in the leadership it has sent to Washington. That era is surely ending now as the South's senior Senators and Congressmen are being replaced by younger and often more moderate representatives.

Republicans score a gain of two Senate seats in the eleven state South by winning races in Mississippi and Virginia. The GOP also had a net gain of two House seats in the region.

Just how these and other changes will affect the South's representation in Congress is not fully known,but some projections can be made based on the South's past performance on such telling issues as Civil Rights and Consumer Protection. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has provided a rating of Congressional voting records on 12 issues with Civil Rights implications. In this analysis we have also used a rating compiled by Congress Watch, the congressional lobbying arm of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen. The Congress Watch selected forty votes which concern consumer interests in the five major issue areas of: Consumer Protection, Government Reform, Energy, Tax Reform and Waste/Subsidy. The combined ratings shown in the tables below offer some evidence that the outgoing congressmen represent some of the worst voting records that the South had to offer.

This evidence indicates Lijat Southern elections were not a total loss on these issues. This reduction in mostly senior conservative ranks is a function of age rather than political change and was not altogether unexpected. The resultant loss in seniority is minimized by recent challenges to the committee chair system. On the Senate side, even in the states of Mississippi and Virginia where conservative Republicans were elected, conservative Democrats with miserable voting records on Civil Rights and consumer issues were replaced. The other retiring Senate Democrats from Alabama and Arkansas were replaced by men who promise to be more progressive than their predecessors.

In the House where Republicans gained two Southern seats, the retiring Democrats included such conservative veterans as Flynt of Georgia, Waggonncr of Louisiana, and Teague, Poage, Burleson, and Mahon of Texas. Republican absentees in the 96th House include Frey and Burke (who were replaced by Democrats), and Thad Cochran from Mississippi who won election to the Senate. For some of these veterans, a worse voting record on civil rights and consumer issues is hardly possible by their successors.

The Best and the Worst

In terms of Southern state delegations, calling the best mediocre is probably generous. In the House, South Carolina had the best civil rights voting record with 55.6, followed by Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas. The 'best' Senate record on these issues was 50 from Tennessee and a 37 rating for Florida. Public interest issues fared poorly in the South generally, but got their highest marks from Senate members in Arkansas and Florida.

On the other hand, the states with the worst voting record stood out clearly. The best that can he said about the tables below is that they allow ample room for improvement.

On balance it seems there may not be a great deal to cheer about, but there can be little remorse in the retirement of some senior Southerners who have spent their careers fighting against the interests of consumers, minorities and the poor.