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 Harold Ford Jr. got a C on the NAACP Report Card.
Republicans Fail to Make the Grade with Blacks
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 2/6/2006

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although the head of the Republican National Committee and President George W. Bush have pledged to make a more concentrated effort to win over Black voters, 98 percent of Republicans in the House and Senate earned an F on the latest NAACP Civil Rights Report Card, compared to only 2 percent of Democrats receiving failing grades.

“[Republican Party Chairman Ken] Mehlman has been out beating the bushes and saying that the Republican Party was appealing for the Black vote, but this is the most powerful evidence and continuing evidence that the Republicans have not realigned their public policy approaches to attract the Black vote,” says University of Maryland Political Scientist Ronald Walters.

According to the NAACP’S mid-term report for the 109th Congress, all but one of the 231 Republicans in the U. S. House of Representatives got an F. The exception was Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, who earned a D. No House Republicans got Bs or Cs.

In the Senate, 51 of the 55 Republicans earned Fs. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island was the only one to get a C, the top grade among GOP members. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, and Mike DeWine of Ohio, all received Ds. Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, an Independent, got a C.

Of the 201 House Democrats, 123 earned As, 38 got Bs, 29 received Cs, six were awarded Ds and five flunked with Fs. That’s a decline from the 108th Congress, when no Democrat received an F. The five House Democrats who earned Fs this time were Rep. Leonard Boswell of Iowa, Rodney Alexander of Louisiana, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, and Gene Taylor of Mississippi. An Incomplete was given to Doris Matsui of California, who got a late start after her predecessor, Robert T. Matsui, died in office. Bernard Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, received an A.

Among the 44 Senate Democrats, 29 earned As, 12 received Bs, two got Cs and one - Ben Nelson of Nebraska - got an F.
Overall, the 41 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus showed overwhelming allegiance to the NAACP-backed issues. All earned As except for the Bs earned by Artur Davis of Alabama, Kendrick Meek of Florida and Adolphus Towns of New York and the Cs received by Sanford Bishop of Georgia and Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee (Delegates Donna Christian-Christensen and Eleanor Holmes Norton are not voting members.)

At the close of the last Congress, all Republicans got Fs except one, Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, who earned a C. This time, he got an F. On this report card, five Republican lawmakers scored higher than F.

NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton says the GOP improvement may be misleading because there were few major civil rights issues facing the Congress during the last session.

“There has been some improvement, but that is only within the context of the limited issues,” says Shelton. “There are a significant number of crucial, more contentious issues that haven’t made it to the floor for a vote.”

Those issues include the Hate Crimes Protection Amendment that passed in the House and is awaiting action in the Senate, and anti-police brutality and anti-profiling legislation, both of which are still stuck in committee.

Overall, voting on civil rights has not changed much in recent years. Fifty-three percent of the lawmakers voted against the NAACP position in the last session; more than half of the two legislative bodies have voted against NAACP-backed legislation for the past three sessions of Congress.

The NAACP graded members based on the percentage of times they voted in agreement with the 97-year-old civil rights organization. An A was awarded for a 90 to 100 percent approval; B for 80 to 89 percent; C for 70 to 79 percent; D for 60 to 69 percent and an F for 59 percent and below.

In the Senate, those issues include the passage of a bill that downgraded the strength of class action suits seeking lost wages and overtime pay, a proposal opposed by the NAACP; and a bill that prevented the elimination of $14 billion in funds to Medicaid over a five year period, supported by the NAACP. In the House, the lawmakers were graded, in part, on the successful vote to stop the elimination of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), supported by the NAACP; and a successful amendment to increase funding for fair housing programs, supported by the group.

At the leadership level, there was also a stark difference between Democratic and Republican voting.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a potential presidential candidate, maintained his F-rating, falling from a 9 percent support level at the end of the 108th Congress to 5 percent. Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky mirrored Frist’s voting pattern.

On the House side, former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who got an F with 23 percent in the 108th Congress, maintained his F, with his support for the NAACP positions falling to 13 percent during the 109th Congress. Likewise, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) support for the NAACP dwindled from 30 percent to 17 percent over that same period. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who votes only in case of a tie, received an I for incomplete.

Leading Democrats in the House were far more supportive.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland both maintained As. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid got an A and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois got an A.

Two states had House and Senate delegations with all As: Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Six states had House and Senate delegations that earned all Fs: Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Without Bennie Thompson, who got an A, Mississippi would have joined the all-F group. Almost one-third of the state is Black and it has the largest number of Black elected officials in the nation.

In an attempt to attract Black voters, Republicans have been saying many of the right things.

“Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization,” Mehlman said at the annual NAACP Convention last July. “I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”

Many say Republicans are still wrong. Walters, the political science professor, points to statements made by President Bush in his State of the Union address.
“He said, ‘A hopeful society depends upon a court that delivers equal justice under the law.’ And with respect to the Katrina disaster, he said, ‘We must work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope and rich in opportunity,’” Walters recounts. “The Republican Party has taken almost every opportunity to go against these kinds of principles.”

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, emphasizes the non-partisanship nature of the NAACP, and was reluctant to directly attack the GOP.
“We are extremely disappointed that the full Congress does not demonstrate a stronger commitment to a comprehensive civil rights agenda that protects all Americans’ civil rights, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, national origin or religious affiliation,” Shelton says. “Congress has the chance, and frankly - the obligation - to strengthen and advance America’s civil rights laws.”
The answer is in voting and voter education programs, Shelton says.

“We will continue to preach to registered voters, educate them on the issues, engage them in our political process,” Shelton says. “We must be engaged in the process in between election days.”

And Republicans must deliver more than rhetoric if they are to successfully reach Blacks, Walters says.

“What is the basis of any party’s appeal to any voter? It is the extent to which they believe in that party’s vote,” he explains. “And there is a very simple answer to the question that we get all the time, ‘When will Blacks vote Republican?’ It is when they have a reason to.”

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