Black congressional members challenge Party taking Black voter base for granted

WASHINGTON ( – President George W. Bush visited the Capitol May 21 to buttress support among nervous Republicans for his war in Iraq. At the same time, his Democratic rival and other Democratic leaders have had to mend their own fences with Blacks voters.

House and Senate Republicans invited Mr. Bush to come to a meeting in the Capitol’s basement in order to ease growing tension between the White House and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill. Behind closed doors, Mr. Bush conducted a 35-minute “pep rally,” covering the war in Iraq, the economy and his energy policy. He left without taking any questions.


In the face of several major setbacks in Iraq, some Democrats have become increasingly pointed in their attacks on Mr. Bush–House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used the word “incompetence” in a description of the President’s leadership on the war–the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination has kept a relatively low profile.

“We’ve had seven weeks of a national campaign, during which time we’ve been reaching out like crazy and growing like mad,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) told a handful of Black journalists in a conference call May 17, according to

“We’re reaching out just as broadly as we can. Sometimes, these complaints surface. I don’t know what the agenda is, but I’m just saying to you that my campaign is open,” he continued, responding to one of only two questions. He was asked about frequent complaints that the Kerry campaign has excluded Blacks, Latinos and other groups from the top ranks of its leadership.

For his part, Mr. Kerry insists that his campaign has enlisted Alexis Herman, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration; that he has appointed Congressional Black Caucus member Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) as co-chair of the Democratic National Committee; that he has met often with the Congressional Black Caucus, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and with former Democratic presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton; that his deputy campaign manager is Black; and that his campaign is in discussions with two prominent Black Chicago advertising agencies to produce campaign commercials.

“I recognize that some people don’t know me as well as I would like,” Sen. Kerry continued, “but that’s the purpose of the campaign. We fought for veterans and, by and large, they were African American and Hispanic veterans that were getting screwed by the VA.”

Blacks–whether they have been politically active before or not–must take charge of their own political destiny, while White Democrats must not take Black voters for granted, insists Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

“We have a lot more people of color to get registered and out to vote, who’ve given up on the system, who don’t realize, we’re setting ourselves up for a prison camp in America, if you don’t realize that this stuff has to be stopped,” Rep. Conyers told The Final Call in an interview May 19.

“This isn’t about how much you like Kerry, or whether he’s too tall, or this, or that or the other. You’ve got to get Bush out of office,” said Mr. Conyers, Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, and a member of Congress since 1965.

Other prominent White Democrats must learn to respect the Black vote, Mr. Conyers said. “Now, we just had, as you know, a weekly Congressional Black Caucus meeting,” said Mr. Conyers. “Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Md. and Democratic Whip) came in, and to my shock I found out that he not only voted against the Congressional Black Caucus (budget) this year, but he’d been voting against it for years. To me, that’s unacceptable conduct for an officer in the Democratic Congressional Caucus. Unacceptable!”

Mr. Conyers insists there is one simple reason why Black voters deserve more respect from the Democrats. “What is the base of the Democratic Party? And the answer is: ‘Black people!’” said Mr. Conyers. “There’s no other ethnic group in America that’s ever voted 90 (percent) for the Democrats and 9 percent for Bush. None!”

Black Democrats plan to take center stage officially and unofficially at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July, including the revelation of some political surprises “you will like,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told The Final Call; along with an official commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the riveting testimony of Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party founder Fannie Lou Hamer, against the all-White regular Democratic Party slate at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City.

Despite the lowest job-approval ratings of his presidency, Mr. Bush is the recipient of sympathy instead of scorn, because he’s leading the country at a time of war.

“First: The backdrop for all of this is terrorism,” Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) told The Final Call. “I don’t want to sound like Bush, but that’s the reality that has changed the mindset of a lot of folks. So I think he’s getting the benefit of the doubt, far beyond what another president would do.

“Second, I think the Democratic nominee Kerry is not as well-known yet. As he becomes more well-known, our opportunities to oust Bush become much better. But, it’s a serious fact, the backdrop of terrorism is helping President Bush.”

Mr. Wynn, like Mr. Kerry, voted to support the October 2002 Congressional resolution that authorized Mr. Bush to invade Iraq, but now says he regrets voting in favor of the war. “I’m not willing to say I voted for a crime,” Mr. Wynn said in response to a question at the Islamic Center of Maryland May 23, according to The Washington Post, but he continued, the congressional resolution for which he voted “was predicated on intelligence information… (but) that information was wrong. It was inaccurate. It was overstated. I regret that vote based on what I know now.”

Like all other Presidents–who have had to be forced to take actions beneficial to Blacks–Mr. Kerry will have to be worked on by Blacks after Mr. Bush is driven from office, according to Mr. Conyers. “Sure (Mr. Kerry) has to do more. But that’s our job.

“Look. When we win, that’s when our battle begins. That’s what happened with (Pres. Bill) Clinton. That’s what happened with (Pres. Jimmy) Carter. We have to teach these White Democrats–as if they couldn’t have learned during the 20 or 30 years of their political career before they ran for President–what this thing is all about. And that’s what I intend to do.

“But right now, we’ve got to raise our base from less than 50 percent turnout to 75 percent. That would carry many states. Remember, there are only two Senate seats from us being a majority in the Senate. There are only 10 seats from us being a majority in the House.

“We’ve got to realize that you’re voting for your life and your future when you vote on Nov. 2, 2004,” said Mr. Conyers.