Following Senator Jim DeMint’s abrupt resignation to run The Heritage Foundation, much has been made over who South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley might name to replace him. One name mentioned is that of African American Congressman Tim Scott, a prospect which prompted MSNBC anchor Richard Lui to sneer: "... Is the South ready for a black Senator?"
On Friday’s MSNBC Live, Lui baited fellow MSNBCer Melissa Harris-Perry into trashing the South as intolerant. Surprisingly, she did not fall into this trap. [See video below page break. MP3 audio here.]
After Lui asked if Scott’s appointment could be transformative in different ways, Perry responded:
I think the very numbers that you showed about the paltry number of African Americans who have served in the U.S. Senate is because it is still extremely difficult for African Americans to win statewide office. What would be transformative is if African Americans, Republican or Democrat, South or North, Midwest to the West could actually win statewide office.
When asked about the South’s readiness for an African American Senator, Perry warned Lui of making such statements:
Well, I mean I think we ought to be careful about assuming this is a southern problem, I mean basically only Illinois and Massachusetts have managed to elect African-Americans statewide in the U.S. Senate and one of the guys from Illinois ended up President, right? So, it's not just a southern issue and I think we should be really careful about that.
See relevant transcript below.
December 7, 2012
11: 18 a.m. EDT
RICHARD LUI: Alright, joining me now is Melissa Harris-Perry, host of Melissa Harris-Perry which airs on MSNBC. Melissa, great to see you. So, you got the set-up there. Could he be transformative in different ways, Tim Scott?
MELIISA HARRIS-PERRY: I don't think he's transformative. I think the very numbers that you showed about the paltry number of African-Americans who have served in the U.S. Senate is because it is still extremely difficult for African-Americans to win statewide office. What would be transformative is if African-Americans, Republican or Democrat, south or north, Midwest to the west could actually win statewide office. This is a question of an appointment like the Burris Senatorial years were, and in that sense I don't think you would see transformation. On the other hand, is he a good pick for a Republican Governor out of South Carolina? Sure, it's a reasonable pick. I mean don't think that African-Americans are going to be particularly thrilled with a Republican southerner. But diversity matters and so it would be nice to have an African-American in the Senate.
LUI: Well Governor Nikki Haley will be appointing Senator Jim DeMint’s replacement said this quote; I want to make two things clear from the outset. Number one, I will not take the appointment myself and number two I will appoint a person who has the same philosophy of government that Jim DeMint and I share. Just to the point you’re making there. He is appointed, he does go up for election, is the South ready for a black Senator?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I mean I think we ought to be careful about assuming this is a southern problem, I mean basically only Illinois and Massachusetts have managed to elect African-Americans statewide in the U.S. Senate and one of the guys from Illinois ended up president, right? So, it's not just a southern issue and I think we should be really careful about that. That said, you know, certainly he runs from a position of strength if he runs as the incumbent. It gives him a different capacity, and more likelihood to win when he does in fact come up for election.
LUI: I was just looking at some of his firsts. You know, it wouldn't be the first time that he has made history. He was the first African-American elected to congress from South Carolina in 114 years. His election to the Charleston City Council was the first time since Reconstruction an African-American republican was elected to any office in South Carolina since Reconstruction. So he is not new to firsts certainly based on just that little bit of history. But you did mention Barack Obama, you did mention that he's the first African-American president to be re-elected and some have talked about Tim Scott and the president and the idea of being post-racial. Are we there?
HARRIS PERRY: Certainly not. I mean the very fact that we are still sort of breathless in anticipation of the possibility of an appointment of an African-American.
LUI: That we’re making these distinctions.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, to the U.S. Senate is an indication how not post-racial we are. Look, also a gubernatorial position which is the other statewide position. Look, we elect presidents from a very narrow category of people. Senators, Governors, and Vice-Presidents. Until we have a substantial number of people of color and women as Governors, Senators, and Vice-Presidents, then we're not really looking at a time when our presidency will be dramatically different.
LUI: It’s when we don’t have to talk about this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, I think that’s right.