It was a grass-roots affair. Led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California), the Congressional Black Caucus recently filled a Capitol Hill hearing room with prominent civil rights leaders and hundreds of advocates to oppose a House Judiciary Committee markup of the Civil Rights Bill of 1997. The legislation — the McConnell-Canady Bill (H.R. 1909) — aims to end all federal affirmative action programs.
Before November, the bill had gotten no further than a subcommittee. The markup proceeding, the final step before a full House vote, was considered a coup for Rep. Charles Canady (R-Florida) who reintroduced the bill last Tune. But when a robust audience of spectators arrived to oppose the bill, Pennsylvania Rep. George Gekas introduced a motion to table it. (Today there are close to 100 co-sponsors of the bill.)
It’s no secret that GOP members are sharply divided over the bill; many consider it too harsh. “We must find effective substitutes for affirmative outreach and recruitment,” says Gekas, who favors dismantling federal affirmative action programs. Others question the political wisdom of passing such a measure so close to the 1998 elections — the rationale behind the bill’s demise in the 104th Congress.
But the struggle is far from over. “It’s particularly sad that some members would vote to prevent a free and open debate on the issue from proceeding,” said Canady following the tabling of the bill, adding that he looked forward to another opportunity to end preferences following the House return last month for its 1998 session.
So what’s next? In addition to garnering greater public opposition against this bill and similar legislation at the state level, University of Maryland political science professor Ron Walters says the task is up to legislators like Maxine Waters and other members of the CBC to keep a united front against anti-affirmative action legislation. “What they must do now is a legislative watch because anything is likely to occur,” he says, such as attempts to attach the legislation as an amendment to other bills.
According to Walters, the CBC would be wise to work with grassroots organizations to defeat anti-affirmative action legislation popping up in individual states during the upcoming elections. “These initiatives will be voted on at the same time as the candidates. You could target both federal and local candidates who support them,” he adds, and send a very serious message.
The National Coalition of Minority Business (NCMB), a minority business advocacy group, is spearheading an effort to get the word out about H.R. 1909. Headed by NCMB general counsel Weldon Latham, the organization has produced thousands of press packets alerting voters about the anti-affirmative legislation that was distributed at the CBC Convention, among other Locations. The packet includes a listing of all the majority and minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees who will hear the bill.
“People are starting to get a larger sense of how critical this is,” says NAACP CEO Kweisi Mfume. “They recognize this is a survival issue that is economic, educational, institutional and systemic.”
Majority Members of the Committee on the