The number of black lawmakers serving at the Statehouse will remain at 19 next session after Democrats picked up a Republican-held suburban Cleveland seat on Tuesday.
The victory by Democrat Phil Robinson, flipping the 6th District, ensures that black representation at the Statehouse will remain at 14 percent of all legislative seats in a state where black residents make up about 13 percent of the population. It also is another example of black representatives expanding beyond traditional urban centers.
With Robinson’s victory, black Democrats now control two House districts where the black voting population is less than 7 percent. The population is 6.6 percent in the 6th District, and Rep. Glenn Holmes, D-McDonald, won re-election in the 63rd District in Trumbull County, where the black population is about 4 percent.
“I think it’s a representation of having good candidates that actually have a message that resonates with everybody," said Christopher Scott, executive director of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus. He said it’s breaking away from the notion that black lawmakers only represent certain districts.
Scott pointed to African-American Reps. Thomas West, D-Canton, and Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, who represent districts that are not among the top 20 percent with the highest black concentrations.
“It’s reminding people that we’re not just legislators that get it done in African-American communities,” Scott said. “We have a message that stretches beyond. You’re only going to see more than that.”
Black Caucus members are focused on issues that impact black communities, Scott said, but they also have messages about education, job investment and health care that resonate broadly. “We should be considered when it comes to some of these other districts.”
The Black Caucus lost a seat in the May primary, when Rep. Michael Ashford, D-Toledo, lost to Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, who is white, in the 11th Senate District. That district is currently represented by Sen. Edna Brown, D-Toledo.
As an organization, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus actually grew in size on Tuesday. Three current black lawmakers are not part of the group, and that number next session is expected to be down to one — Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent of Columbus.
Scott also noted that Judge Melody Stewart on Tuesday became the first African-American Democrat to be elected statewide, winning a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court.
"Judge Stewart has trailblazed a path for so many to follow in our party and we must celebrate that outstanding achievement,” the caucus said in a statement.