The NAACP & Congress

By Petrosino, Frankie J. | The New Crisis, September/October 2002 | Go to article overview

The NAACP & Congress


Petrosino, Frankie J., The New Crisis


LEGISLATIVE REPORT CARD

Keeping an eye on key civil rights votes on Capitol Hill

NAACP members at the 93rd national convention in Houston may have been 2,000 miles away from Washington, but they still kept tabs on the progress of NAACP-supported legislation in Congress.

The NAACP's Washington Bureau released its third legislative report card for the 107th Congress at the convention. The bureau tracked the fate of 51 key civil rights bills (33 in the Senate and 18 in the House), as well as the voting records of each member of Congress on those bills.

Hilary Shelton, director of the bureau and chief lobbyist for the NAACP on Capitol Hill, says the report suggests "we've done a lot well, but we have a lot left to do."

The House and Senate both voted down amendments to approve federal funding for private school vouchers, while the Senate approved a measure that condemns hate crimes against Arab Americans and American Muslims in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Both votes were in line with the NAACP's stance.

On election reform, however, votes were mixed. The legislation that passed the Senate incorporated NAACP-supported measures, including national standards in voting procedures and voting booths accessible to the disabled, but did not include an amendment that would have re-enfranchised former felons. In the House, a rule was passed that limited debate on its reform package, which resulted in the passage of a bill that excludes many civil rights provisions backed by the NAACP.

"We weren't pleased with the outcome, but there's still a silver lining to this cloud," Shelton says. The Senate and House election reform bills are in conference committee, where their differences will be worked out before a joint bill is resubmitted to each house. Shelton hopes there may be an opportunity to change certain provisions the NAACP opposes.

The performances of certain individual members of Congress offered good news for the NAACP House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) both voted in favor of NAACP-supported legislation to support relief efforts in Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa. In the Senate, both Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and Harry Reid (D-- Nev.) voted to approve the lifetime appointment of Roger L. Gregory, the first African American judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the states of Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The legislative report card also identifies 27 senators and 30 representatives who served as NAACP "legislative quarterbacks" by promoting NAACP priorities in bills and amendments. This diverse group includes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).

In addition, 10 senators and 20 representatives made it into the "NAACP 100% Club" by voting in line with the NAACP on each of the measures considered in the report card.

"I am proud the NAACP has given my record such high marks," Sen. John "Jack" Reed (D-R.I.) said in a statement. "This record reflects the values of my constituents in Rhode Island; it is important to ensure all Americans receive equal treatment and rights and that we properly punish injustices such as hate crimes."

Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) says: "The NAACP has been at the heartstone of African American and minority needs in the country for a long time, so I am very pleased that my positions on major issues are in concert with those of the NAACP."

While four senators and 12 representatives were designated "most in need of improvement" because of voting records that matched NAACP positions less than 20 percent of the time, Shelton tasks the Washington Bureau with improving these ratings in coming months. "We have a full agenda that will carry us into the 108th Congress with a clear idea of what NAACP members want from their government," he says. …

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