Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version

September 2007


Published in SOCIAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY, Volume 88, Number 3, September 2007 Copyright 2007 by the Southwestern Social Science Association.


In this article, we explore whether African-American state legislators have been able to translate election to office into positions of power, particularly as committee chairs. Methods. We cull data from all state legislative chambers that contained a black legislator during two time periods, 1989 and 1999. In doing so, we compare the observed numbers of African-American chairs with their expected numbers. We also examine each state’s percentage of black chairs using multiple regression to determine what factors—political, partisan, institutional, cultural— influence the selection of black committee chairs. Results. Overall, our descriptive analysis reveals that blacks are underrepresented as chairs. They are not, however, significantly underrepresented as chairs of the most important committees and they are generally overrepresented as chairs of committees with jurisdiction over social services. Our multivariate analyses show that the prevalence of black chairs is driven primarily by factors related to partisan control of legislative chambers and size of the black legislative delegation, and that these dynamics have changed over time. Conclusion. Although the increase in African-American state legislators has led to an increase in substantive leadership roles, these positions have been limited almost entirely to chambers where the black caucus is a critical element of a Democratic majority.