NAACP civil rights report card to give Congress poor grades Majority of legislators to receive an 'F' for voting records

June 23, 1998|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF Jonathan Weisman of The Sun's Washington bureau contributed to this article.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is preparing a failing grade for Congress on civil rights.

The organization will release its biannual legislative report card tomorrow, and a top official of the Baltimore-based civil rights organization says most members of the House and Senate will not receive passing grades. He did not divulge names.

"The vast majority of Congress did very poorly," Hilary Shelton, deputy director of the NAACP's Washington office, said yesterday. "As we look at state delegations to both the House and the Senate, the vast majority received an F as they voted on the civil rights agenda of the NAACP."

The offices of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, were not available for comment on Shelton's statements.

Republican views

But Republican leaders, especially Gingrich, have tried to frame civil rights issues in a light that they say is more relevant to the times.

For instance, Gingrich resolutely opposes affirmative action, saying it unfairly discriminates on the basis of race and stigmatizes African-Americans who may believe they are only succeeding because some hiring and promotion policies favor minorities.

"What the NAACP is falling behind the curve on is looking at issues that really do affect poor black communities, like crime or the dissolution of the family," said Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group that opposes affirmative action. "We need new-thinking groups that do not continue to act as if this is America of 1965 and not 1998."

Lawmakers were graded on such issues as affirmative action, school construction, criminal justice, access to higher education, the budget and the Congressional Black Caucus' budget proposals for programs for community development and educational improvements.

In all, the survey examined 10 votes in the Senate and 12 votes in the House.

"The report card will reflect what we call our 'heroes and zeros,' " Shelton said, referring to those who voted for or against the NAACP agenda 100 percent of the time.

Lots of zeros

Forty-three of the 435 House members and seven of the 100 senators will get zeros. "These are people who voted against the NAACP's legislative agenda 100 percent of the time," he said.

The "heroes," those legislators who supported NAACP-backed measures all of the time, will number 21 in the Senate and 40 in the House, Shelton said.

Ratings of individual members of the 105th Congress will be distributed to lawmakers tonight, before the public release.

The ratings will be released by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume at a news conference outside the Capitol tomorrow morning.

In the NAACP's last legislative report card, Mfume, a member of the House for much of the 104th Congress, was a "hero."

Mfume left Congress in early 1996 to head the NAACP after representing Maryland's 7th Congressional District for nine years.

Extensive breakdown

Shelton said he could not compare the report card on the 105th Congress to those of previous ones because the organization is doing a more extensive statistical breakdown than it has before.

Shelton said lawmakers were apprised of the NAACP's positions ahead of time on each matter that came before Congress.

"Each of the issues are bread-and-butter civil rights concerns," he said. "They are issues that in each and every case, members were made aware of the NAACP's concern and either support or opposition prior to the vote. None of this was a surprise, and this is what we got."

Pub Date: 6/23/98

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