Making a Difference: The Policy Influence of Black State Legislators in Policy Making

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By utilizing various quantitative techniques and case study analysis, the dissertation examines the policy influence of black state legislators on the new welfare reform plan, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The dissertation begins with the analysis of a national survey of black state legislators; conducts a 50 state quantitative analysis of state-wide socioeconomic and demographic data as well as political variables; and composes an index of punitive welfare reform options chosen by states. In addition to the quantitative analyses, the dissertation also conducts case study analyses of Maryland and Mississippi to add depth and context. Theoretically, the study positions itself and the nexus of state income redistribution, black politics, and political economy. Once merged, these literatures provide an informed perspective no the combined influences of race, politics, and economics on redistributive public policies in the American states. The findings of the quantitative analysis were inconclusive. The dissertation found an inverse relationship between the proportion of black state legislators and the monetary assistance provided TANF recipients. As black state legislators proportionally increased, monetary benefits decreased. Surprisingly and counter to theories of income redistribution, the addition of socioeconomic, demographic, and political control variables – although contributing to greater explanatory ability of the overall model – were not able to reverse the negative relationship between percentage of blacks in state legislatures and the monetary outlays to TANF recipients. The case study analysis found that context played an important role in the effectiveness of black state legislators. The institutional position of Maryland’s black members provided them the opportunity to play and integral role in TANF policy making. In general, pragmatism rule the day in Maryland as consensus was reached with little conflict or controversy. In contrast, Mississippi’s welfare reform was heightened by the subtext of racial stereotyping, general disagreement, and unrealized expectations by Mississippi’s Legislative Black Caucus members. Furthermore, the inability of Mississippi’s black members to play a central role in TANF, particularly and policy making, in general, was heightened as a result of their lack of institutional power. Despite the differences in institutional authority and policy making, both Maryland and Mississippi legislators felt that TANF did not provide them an opportunity to model the legislation to meet their states’ individual needs. TANF, it was reported, was restrictive and not as enabling as it was originally touted to be!