NAACP rates Congress: GOP flunks, Democrats score well Maryland delegation graded C, one of 15 in U.S. with passing grade

June 25, 1998|By Geoffrey C. Upton | Geoffrey C. Upton,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Maryland's congressional Democrats fared well and Republicans poorly in a "report card" issued yesterday by the NAACP that reviewed votes in Congress on affirmative action and other issues important to the Baltimore-based civil rights group.

Speaking at a news conference, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume urged the group's members to seek the ouster this fall of lawmakers who received low grades.

"We intend to use this information as a sword to defeat delinquent legislators of both parties," Mfume, a former Democratic congressman from Baltimore, said of the biannual survey.

Three of the four Maryland House Republicans -- Roscoe G. Bartlett, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Wayne T. Gilchrest -- received F's, with Bartlett named one of 50 "zeros" in Congress for never siding with the NAACP on 12 votes reviewed by the survey.

The fourth, Constance A. Morella, received a D but still took an "honorable mention" for being a moderate Republican on civil rights.

Each of the state's four Democratic House members received an A, as did the two Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes -- qualifying them for the NAACP's designation of "hero."

Mikulski and Sarbanes, along with Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and Albert R. Wynn, sided with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on all votes considered.

Overall, the Maryland delegation received a C -- making it one of just 15 state delegations to receive a passing mark. Only Massachusetts, North Dakota and West Virginia received A's. All told, a majority of Congress -- 53 percent -- received failing marks.

The grades were based on 10 votes in the Senate and 12 in the House since the start of the 105th Congress last year. The votes pertained to the budget, confirmations of presidential appointments, affirmative action, juvenile justice, the census and verification of voters' eligibility.

"Both the House and the Senate have failed the American people as it relates to civil rights issues," Mfume concluded.

As part of a renewed effort to spur voter participation among the NAACP's members, Mfume said, the organization's 1,700 branches will be urged to distribute the report cards and to hold news conferences and forums to praise those who fared well and target those who did poorly.

"We will not sit on the sidelines during this election cycle," Mfume said. "We want to make our presence felt as never before."

Mfume said he was pleased that most of the state's representatives -- especially Cummings, his successor in the 7th District -- received A's. But he was critical of other Maryland lawmakers.

"We're really concerned that Mr. Bartlett could come in with a zero," Mfume said. "It is a hard thing to do."

Maryland Republicans criticized the report card as a poor indicator of their commitment to the concerns of minority groups.

Ehrlich, who scored a low 16.6 percent, called the report card "just crazy" in its designation of positions beneficial to African-Americans. In fact, the congressman said, he plans to campaign in black communities on some of the very votes the NAACP is holding against him.

Ehrlich noted, for example, that the NAACP counted support for $7 million in private-school vouchers to low-income students in the District of Columbia as a vote against civil rights.

"That whole thing was about helping poor minority kids go to good schools," Ehrlich said. "It makes you wonder what their interests really are."

Lisa Lyons Wright, a spokeswoman for Bartlett, said: "The vote selection was curious, to say the least. It excluded, or scored as wrong, votes that would specifically assist many poor people, including African-Americans."

Tony Caligiuri, chief of staff for Gilchrest, said that while the Eastern Shore Republican is an associate member of the NAACP's Somerset County branch, he put little stock in the group's scorecard.

"You can easily see the correlation between partisanship and ratings," Caligiuri said.

Democrats in the House and Senate received an overall mark of 87 percent, while Republicans received 18 percent. House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas failed, with an 8.3 percent mark, as did Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, at 20 percent. Newt Gingrich, who as House speaker seldom casts votes, received an incomplete.

Among Democrats, both Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri earned A's.

Spokesmen for Gingrich and Lott declined to comment yesterday. But Horace Cooper, a spokesman for Armey, said the NAACP's ratings reflect the group's embrace of a "radical, liberal, big government agenda" that is at odds with what most Americans, of all races, want from Congress.

Cooper cited the NAACP's opposition to a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

"To say that a budget that balances is the wrong position for black Americans is a fairly bizarre position to take," Cooper said. "If you have lower taxes and a simpler tax code, it's good for all Americans, including black Americans."

Mfume said the NAACP is non-partisan, and he attributed the difference in scores between the parties to the Democrats' "predisposition" to the NAACP's stance on civil rights issues.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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