Black lawmakers consider bids for Congress as independents

Published 10:24 am Thursday, May 8, 2008

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Three black state lawmakers say they are weighing whether to run for three U.S. House seats this fall as independents, a move that could splinter Democratic support in the races.

Sen. Don Cravins Jr., Sen. Lydia Jackson and Rep. Michael Jackson say the state and national Democratic parties have failed to recruit and support black candidates to run for federal and statewide offices. They said there’s disparity between how the party treats black and white candidates.

“For many, many years, the African-American community has been very supportive of Democrats, and many of us feel that has not been reciprocated,” said Cravins, D-Opelousas.

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Louisiana has only one black member of Congress: U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat who represents a majority black district.

All seven of Louisiana’s U.S. House seats come up for election in November.

Cravins said he is considering a run as an independent for the 7th U.S. Congressional District that is held by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-Lafayette.

Though he said the Democratic Party supports him as a state senator in a majority black district, Cravins said he worries that financial and organizational help would evaporate once he ventures into a congressional district that is majority white.

“When an African-American candidate runs in a majority white district, race is always an issue,” said Cravins.

Cravins’ father — Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins Sr. — ran for Congress in 2004 and lost, and at the time, Cravins Sr. criticized members of the Democratic Party for not providing enough support for his candidacy.

Rep. Michael Jackson, D-Baton Rouge, said the party favored fellow Democrat Don Cazayoux over him in the recent race for the 6th U.S. Congressional District, and he said that cut into his fundraising ability. He’s considering running as an independent for the seat in November. Cazayoux won the congressional seat and was sworn into office this week, but he’ll have to run again in the fall to hang onto the job.

Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, also said she is weighing a run as an independent for the 4th U.S. Congressional District seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. James McCrery, R-Shreveport. She said she has some problems with the way the party has been recruiting and supporting candidates.

“Looking at the demographics for the 4th, it just makes sense to consider the independent route,” she said.

Chris Whittington, chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, denied that the state party plays favorites during closed primaries when two Democrats are running against each other. He said the party stays out of closed primary elections and puts its full support behind the Democratic candidate who makes it out, regardless of race.

“There’s no preferential treatment whatsoever in the closed primary,” Whittington said.

He said he doesn’t know what effect the potential independent candidates could have on the fall election.

“I hope it wouldn’t happen,” he said. “We like people to stay Democrats and keep unity in the party.”