Oregon Legislature: If Diversity is Good, is More Better?

DiversityThis is the question posited by The Oregonian about how the Oregon Legislature appears to be overwhelmingly white. Does it really matter?

The numbers presented on Oregonlive.com in As Oregon grows more diverse, Legislature remains overwhelmingly white reveal both facts and assumptions. Based on the numbers, we can assume that the 96% they refer to as the make up of the legislature is Non-Hispanic (ethnicity) White (race) because it differentiates Latinos based solely on ethnicity. This is compared with changing ethnicity of the state population of 96% White in 1990 with 77% in 2015.

Of these changes in the state, the changes are .4% African American,  1.9% Asian and 9% Latino. The Asian and Latino numbers do not indicate legal status (citizen, permanent resident, etc). None of them qualify how individuals identify in regards to ethnicity. It also points out that 36% of Latinos and 80% of Whites by population are registered voters.

The article points out that some legislators do not identify with a non-American ethnicity, and that Governor Vic Atiyeh, son of two Syrian first generation immigrants is not identified by ethnicity.

On these disparate facts are based some assumptions.

  • Those who do not identify by ethnicity are automatically considered “White”, like Vic Atiyeh
  • “White”, “African American” and “Asian” are monolithic combinations of race and ethnicity
  • The lack of diversity in the legislature needs correction based solely on population numbers
  • The race or ethnicity of a legislator has a direct effect on their ability to represent a diverse constituency

These are all assumptions and not facts in themselves.

Race is a broad categorization based on interpretations of biology, but ethnicity is cultural identity that can incorporate race identity.

The Oregon legislature is made up of elected officials. Elected officials choose to pursue a career in politics. Here are some facts, not assumptions about who you can elect to the legislature:

  • You cannot elect an official if you cannot, or do not vote; only voters can determine who is an elected official
  • You cannot elect an official of a certain ethnicity if no one of that ethnicity is running for office
  • You cannot elect an official of a certain race if no one of that race is running for office

So what is the article suggesting, based on the actual facts? Not much at all, because there are few supporting facts that aren’t broad generalizations.

What is does suggest, based on a very small amount of anecdotal evidence from a few legislators is that some diversity in the legislature is good. It does not support a direct correlation of population to make up of the legislature in ethnicity and race.





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