I have been following the Primary campaigns of two exceptional Democrats running for U.S. Senate, Kendrick Meek for Florida and Ken Lewis for North Carolina. There is a real opportunity to diversify the U.S. Senate, something which former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun seems to agree in this op-ed.
I don’t usually get involved in Democratic primary contests, but this race was too important to stay on the sidelines. In North Carolina we have three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, but one stands out above the rest. That candidate is Ken Lewis.
I have been impressed with Ken’s ability to connect with young voters, progressives, and African Americans, the same groups that drove Barack Obama to victory in North Carolina in 2008. In an off-year election where Democratic voters are not showing high levels of engagement, Ken is the best candidate to inspire and turn out the coalition of voters that will be necessary to defeat Senator Burr in November.
But this primary election is about more than political calculation.
Ken Lewis represents a significant opportunity for the State of North Carolina and our country: The opportunity to change the U.S. Senate by changing the kind of Senators we send there.
Ken Lewis’ background is not like that of most U.S. Senators. He worked as a janitor, bus driver and fast food employee to put himself through Duke University and then Harvard Law School.
In this down economy he would bring a unique set of skills to the Senate, having spent two decades helping businesses create jobs in nearly every industry in North Carolina.
At a time when Americans feel forgotten by political insiders, Ken would bring a unique set of experiences, deeply rooted in the community organizations and non-profit associations he has served.
As Senator, Ken will be responsive to the needs of North Carolinians. He’ll serve the people of North Carolina because that’s what he’s done all his life.
But there is another factor as well that many are quick to dismiss.
When I first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1991, the Senate did not include any African-Americans. The South has not elected an African-American to the U.S. Senate since 1874. Today, there is only one sitting African-American Senator, and he will not return to the Senate next year.
How can we reach our full promise as Americans with a Senate that only reflects a narrow slice of our country—a Senate that does not include one single African-American Senator?
If we are serious about making the Senate a deliberative body that makes well-informed policy for the 21st century, then we must strive to include in the U.S. Senate a range of experiences and backgrounds that encompass those found in our country. No one could look at the U.S. Senate today and believe these requirements to be satisfied.
Ken Lewis will bring a unique background, a vital set of skills, and a fresh and optimistic perspective to the U.S. Senate. He also offers an historic opportunity to make our U.S. Senate a more representative, well-informed, and inclusive place.
Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines. We have a chance to make history in North Carolina just as I made history in Illinois two decades ago. This is our time. Ken is our candidate. He’ll be our Senator, if we all do our part.
Carol Moseley Braun is the first and only African-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. She served as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand from 1999-2001.
Lewis has a strong statement in support of comprehensive immigration reform, and Meek recently blasted the recent bill signed into law in Arizona. We need strong Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate who truly represent our American values as Democrats, and Lewis and Meek should be on our Democratic priority list to support.