by David A. Love
With Sen. Jim DeMint announcing his retirement in order to head the conservative Heritage Foundation, Rep. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) – the only black Republican in the new Congress in January – is the favorite to replace him.
If South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appoints him to the seat to serve the remainder of DeMint's term, the move would be good for diversity in the Senate, which currently has no African-Americans. Roland Burris, the last black senator, left office in 2010. Further, the decision to pick Scott would help to rehabilitate the image of the Republican Party, which receives little black support and whose policies have alienated black voters in recent years.
But would a Senator Tim Scott be a good thing for black people? Maybe not so much. But let's weigh the pros and cons.
At first glance, Scott's story is appealing and compelling. As he mentioned at the Republican National Convention this past summer, he grew up poor in a single-parent household and rose out of poverty to become a businessman, politician, and ultimately the first black Republican member of Congress from South Carolina since Reconstruction.
An African-American from South Carolina in the Senate would reflect the changes taking place in that state. Today's Palmetto State is not the state of Civil War secession, nor is it the state of segregation or Strom Thurmond. And although it is a red state, President Obama won 44 percent of the vote. The Latino population in South Carolina grew 148 percent over the past decade.
Unlike the vocal Tea Party darling Allen West—the other black Republican in the House of Representatives, who lost his Florida seat in November—Scott has kept his nose clean by staying out of the spotlight and away from controversial remarks. Further, to his credit, he has stressed the need for the GOP to connect with voters "of all backgrounds."
Nevertheless, DeMint wants Scott to succeed him, which speaks volumes about the implications of a Senator Scott for the black electorate.
DeMint is a Tea Party hardliner and a leader in that movement, with a mere 7 percent rating from the NAACP and the ACLU, indicating an anti-civil rights and civil liberties record. Scott is not quite as hardline as DeMint, but shares his right wing political views. In addition, Scott is an evangelical social conservative, pro-life and anti-gay marriage, and a Club for Growth and Tea Party favorite who just happens to be black. He even favored posting the Ten Commandments outside the Charleston City Council
As his voting record shows, Rep. Scott is a rank-and-file Republican who voted to repeal Obamacare. He sponsored legislation banning federal agencies from deducting union dues from their employees. In addition, Scott received a zero percent rating from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and a 100 percent rating from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, indicating a completely pro-management voting record.
Scott supports immigration legislation similar to Arizona's S.B. 1070, and he co-sponsored Rep. Steve King's anti-immigrant birthright citizenship bill—which would have eliminated automatic citizenship to children born in the U.S. by requiring at least one parent be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Last year, Scott suggested President Obama should be impeached if he tried to raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval.
In many ways, Tim Scott parallels Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As a Supreme Court nominee twenty-one years ago, Thomas was offered by his backers as a living Horatio Alger success story, a black man who grew up in poverty in rural Georgia and pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Thomas has since been a disappointment to many on the black community, aligning himself with the court's conservative majority and voting against civil rights and affirmative action.
And yet, while Thomas believes affirmative action rendered his Yale law degree worthless, his nomination by President George H.W. Bush was widely interpreted as a cynical form of race-based affirmative action. The seat once occupied by the civil rights giant Thurgood Marshall was filled with a black conservative hostile to civil rights, who arguably was not the most qualified conservative, and not even the best black conservative candidate for the job.
Similarly, the evidence suggests Tim Scott's political views—the core values of the Tea Party—would alienate most African-Americans, who make up over 28 percent of the population of South Carolina. These are the views that have made the Republican Party a nearly exclusively white party, on purpose. Running in a conservative district that is three-quarters white, Scott has had no reason to appeal to black voters. There is no evidence he would buck his party or moderate his views in the Senate.
If Rep. Scott becomes the next senator from South Carolina, he will be the first black Republican Senator since Edward Brooke (R-Massachusetts). A moderate Republican with liberal social views, Senator Brooke was a champion of civil rights who fought against housing discrimination, defended the extension of the Voting Rights Act, and supported affirmative action.
But Tim Scott is no Edward Brooke. At this point, a white moderate Republican such as former Gov. Mark Sanford is a better bet for black America. Sanford, who once held Scott's House seat, is considering running for DeMint's Senate seat in 2014.
(Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove)
Photo: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (L) participates in a ceremonial swearing-in with Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) (2nd R) during a ceremonial swearing-in on Capitol Hill January 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. The 112 U.S. Congress has convened on Capitol Hill today. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)