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Black districts may see more bias

Black state legislators who represent mostly blacks are more likely to encounter discrimination than those from districts with more whites, a University of Florida study released Friday suggested.

David Hedge, a political science professor who conducted the study, said the findings raise questions about the long-term effects of federal laws that require creation of minority-dominated districts.

"Although more blacks are being elected to office, that alone is no guarantee of meaningful black representation," he said. "It may be that whites react not only to the color of a legislator's skin, but the color, economic status or politics of his or her constituents as well."

Hedge and fellow political scientist James Button began surveying the nation's 438 black state lawmakers in 1991, receiving replies from 39 percent.

Nearly two-thirds of the blacks from black-majority districts said they experienced or observed discrimination, compared with half the blacks from districts where the majority of residents were white, the study found.

Discrimination included name-calling, exclusion from key decisions, committee posts and leadership positions, and the passage of legislation harmful to black interests.

"Lawmakers from black-majority districts are clearly less likely to believe that issues important to blacks will receive a fair hearing, let alone be enacted into law," he said.

Rep. Douglas "Tim" Jamerson, D-St. Petersburg, has represented both majority-white and majority-black districts in his 11 years in the Florida House. He said black lawmakers are reaching positions of power only now, largely because of the minority representation requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act.

"There is still a penchant to ignore the issues of African-Americans," Jamerson said. "But before, there was nobody up there fighting. Things are not as good as they should be, but they're better than they were."

The number of black legislators nationwide has more than doubled since 1969. The 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, along with supporting court decisions, directed states to redraw political boundaries to create "minority access" or black-majority districts.

Black women suffer a double disadvantage as a result of their gender and race. Seventy-six percent of the black women reported discrimination to themselves or others, compared with 56 percent of black men, he said.