November 6th is now just one day away. For Alabamians, it means they’ll cast their votes not only for who they want as president, but who they want to serve as their U.S. Congressional representative. In District 7, which includes Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, Dallas, and Wilcox counties, Democratic incumbent Terri Sewell is running against Republican Don Chamberlain. Sewell was first elected to the U.S. House in 2010. She is the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama.
Dr. Angela Lewis is an associate professor in the Department of Government at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her research focuses on Black Politics from Public Opinion to issues of public policy and what impact it has on Black Americans. She says Congresswoman Terri Sewell has made a significant impact for black women in politics.
(Lewis): Well I think she’s certainly broken a piece of the glass ceiling, not the entire glass ceiling because we still have one in the state of Alabama, but she has certainly paved the way for other black women who want to gain either state-wide office or even federal office, because being the first black female as a part of the Congressional Delegation she’s paved the way, she’s opened the door so people know that it is possible now.
(Martin): So going back to this idea of “glass ceiling,” there are many successful women in politics that we could mention, of course Representative Sewell, there’s Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman, and Hilary Clinton who’s currently serving as Secretary of State under the Obama Administration. So you say there is this “glass ceiling,” but do you think that glass ceiling is rising?
(Lewis): I think so, but at the same time, unfortunately, people still have stereotypical images about women. I think there is only so far they think women can go in leadership positions, and so sometimes constituents, or voters, place limits on women and leadership. And so, until those feelings and stereotypes are removed from people, I think there will continue to be a glass ceiling. I mean, the University of Alabama has their first female University president, and I’ve already heard a few negative comments about the fact that there is a female now running the University of Alabama. But until voters and people in general move those stereotypes, I think there will continue to be this glass ceiling for women, not only in the state of Alabama, but nationally.
(Martin): So turning back to District Seven, this Congressional District encompasses several counties in the Black Belt region that include Dallas, Wilcox, and Sumter Counties. How does the Black Belt region make this district unique going into the election?
(Lewis): Well it’s the only majority minority district in the state of Alabama, and historically we know that because of the nature of the district is one of the Congressional districts in the state that usually votes Democrat in the Presidential Election, not enough of an impact for the entire state to shift towards the Democratic candidate for president, but we know that the Seventh Congressional District is a pretty solid Democratic district and has a higher percentage of people of color in that district.
(Martin): And we also know this district, the Black Belt region, tends to have higher unemployment rates, higher rates of poverty. So how is that going to voters in that district going into the election on Tuesday?
(Lewis): Certainly, the economy is going to be at the top of everyone’s mind in the Seventh Congressional District, and certainly across the nation. I think I saw a report this morning that the unemployment rate in the month of October, even though jobs were added, still went up just a little bit, so the economy continues to be on the forefront of all voters’ minds. But, with the recent devastation with Hurricane Sandy, people are also trying to examine how both presidential candidates will handle emergency situations and how compassionate they are in dealing with those situations, and trying to remove politics away from the everyday real life situations that people deal with.
(Martin): Finally, I want to just ask and discuss briefly about the amendment that’s going up on the ballot, to remove the racist language from Alabama’s 1901 Constitution. There are black supporters who came out against this. Were you surprised by that? Where do you think Alabama is going to go on that?
(Lewis): Well, I think this has been an issue for quite some time, particularly with the education funding. There is some speculation that changing the Constitution and adding these amendments could affect public funding for education. And so, I don’t know which way people will go with these amendments, because often times people just look at the front of the ballot and they vote a straight Democratic or straight Republican ticket, and they don’t often times turn the ballot over to read all of the amendments and even do research to try to understand them. So considering the history of Alabama, there is a possibility that amendment may not pass, because there is opposition, but at the same time, there is a possibility people may not want that type of language removed from the Constitution. So it’s hard to project how that particular election is going to end up next week.