By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida, who has been in Congress for 23 years, lost her primary battle, in late August, in the wake of a federal indictment. Brown’s loss was the second Congressional Black Caucus member to lose her seat this year. In late April, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) lost his primary race to State Senator Dwight Evans, 62, months after he was indicted on multiple charges. Fattah was later convicted of the charges.
Brown lost to a former Florida State Senator Al Lawson, 67. Lawson had previously run for Congress in 2010 against Rep. Allen Boyd and lost. Lawson won 48 percent of the vote to Brown’s 39 percent with a third candidate receiving 13 percent of the vote. Brown and her Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons were both indicted on 24 counts of fraud over an allegedly fake charity set up by Simmons according to the Department of Justice.
The charges around Brown are the fourth time this year that either a Congressional Black Caucus member or a CBC chief of staff has been indicted. On April 5, Rep. John Conyers’ Chief of Staff Cynthia Martin was charged with receiving stolen property after an employee with the NFIB mistakenly began depositing money into her Congressional Federal Credit Union bank account in the sum of $13,000 as a result of writing down the wrong account number. Prosecutors claimed that Martin refused to return the money. She later resigned as Conyer’s Chief of Staff over the incident.
On August 6, Isaac Lanier Avant, the chief of staff to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) was charged with allegedly failing to file federal tax returns for five consecutive years.
All of the legal cases during 2016 involve members or their staff who have a great deal of seniority and power in Congress. Brown was the ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Fattah was a member of the most powerful committee in Congress: Appropriations. Conyers is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. Thompson is the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Brown and Fattah’s defeats are not the first time two Black members of Congress have lost in the same calendar year. In 2002, former Rep. Earl Hilliard lost to former Rep. Artur Davis in Alabama as former Rep. Denise Majette lost to former Rep. Cynthia McKinney. In 1992, former Rep. Mel Reynolds beat the late Gus Savage and Rep. Bobby Rush defeated Charles Hayes in Chicago.
But typically when Black members of Congress lose elections it’s because of redistricting not legal matters. Lately, there has been a spike in the number of prosecutions involving Black members of Congress in their staff. In the cases of Brown and Fattah the impact is obvious. In the cases of Conyers and Thompsons chiefs of staff the full impact is yet to be seen.