With the announcement of Congressman Tim Scott filling the soon-to-be vacant seat of U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republicans gain a continued stalwart of Tea Party conservatism with a history-making selection.
The history of congressional black representation began in 1869, when the first African-Americans were elected to Congress: Two of them to the House and a third to the U.S. Senate. The three were elected during the period of Reconstruction immediately following the Civil War.
The first African American in Congress was U.S. Senator Hiram R. Revels from Mississippi, while the first African American elected to the U.S. House was South Carolina’s Joseph H. Rianey.
From the Old North State, eight African Americans have been elected to the U.S. Congress. They are, in chronological order:
John Adams Hyman, Republican (March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1877)
James E. O’Hara, Republican (March 4, 1883 – March 3, 1887)
George H. White, Republican (March 4, 1897 – March 3, 1901)
Henry P. Cheatham, Republican (March 4, 1889 – March 3, 1893)
Eva M. Clayton, Democrat (November 5, 1992 – January 3, 2003)
Melvin L. Watt, Democrat (January 5, 1993 – Present)
Frank W. Balance Jr., Democrat (January 7, 2003 – June 11, 2004)
G. K. Butterfield, Democrat (July 21, 2004 – Present)
From the Palmetto State, 10 African Americans have served in the U.S. House:
Joseph H. Rainey, Republican (December 12, 1870 – March 3, 1879)
Robert B. Elliott, Republican (March 4, 1871 – November 1874)
Robert C. DeLarge, Republican (March 4, 1871 – January 24, 1873)
Alonzo J. Ransier, Republican (March 3, 1873 – March 3, 1875)
Richard H. Cian, Republican (March 4, 1873 – March 3, 1875 and March 4, 1877 – March 3, 1879)
Robert Smalls, Republican (March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1879, July 19, 1882 – March 3, 1883 and March 18, 1884 – March 3, 1887)
Thomas E. Miller, Republican (September 24, 1890 – March 3, 1891)
George W. Murray, Republican (March 4, 1893 – March 3, 1895 and June 4, 1896 – March 3, 1987)
James E. Clyburn, Democrat (January 5, 1993 – Present)
Tim E. Scott, Republican (January 3, 2011 – Present)
Congressman Scott will be the seventh African American to serve as a U.S. Senator in the nation’s history; before Scott, three of the senators were Republicans, while the other three were Democrats.
Scott will be the only African American in the U.S. Senate.
Having served the Charleston City Council and two years in the SC House of Representatives, Scott defeated fellow Republican Paul Thurmond, son of former Governor and U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, for his current seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As a Republican who rode 2010’s Tea Party wave, Scott introduced (as most Tea Party freshmen did) a bill to repeal and defund the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare) and has been willing to also buck the House leadership by voting against raising the debt ceiling limit.
Since Gov. Nikki Haley sought an appointee cut from the same conservative cloth as Senator DeMint, Scott’s elevation to the upper chamber should come as no surprise.
The real question now becomes: Will Senator Scott be someone who can not only deliver the fiscal conservative message as his predecessor did (most likely), but also be a messenger who opens the Grand Old Party up to a more diverse base of supporters?
Most likely, soon-to-be Senator Scott will find himself a key spokesperson for the Republican Party. Could the Senator’s race play a factor in that? Yes; when your party is crushed 93-6 within 13% of the national electorate, there is something to be said for a representative outside the standard profile, advancing the ideological and political philosophy for the GOP.
But Scott’s approach appears to be more of substantive representation: that policy ideas are more important to present than the racial descriptive group he belongs to. And in his appointment remarks, he set a very fiscal conservative tone to his senatorial ascension.
In making her appointment, Governor Haley acknowledged that aspect as well, saying “it’s never about what the messenger looks like…it’s about the message.”
But following this year’s election, Republicans need to be attuned to the substance of the message. Having a diverse set of messengers can help deliver a message through an open, inclusive manner.
But if the message isn’t marketable to a wider audience, it doesn’t matter who delivers it.