Making the Grade

Black congressional members pass NAACP test

The African American members of the House of Representatives are making the grade — at least according to the NAACP. While more than half of the members of the House received a failing grade on the NAACP’s Federal Legislative Report Card for the 107th Congress’ first session, which wrapped up in December 2001, 24 of the 37 African Americans in the House received an A.

The grades among African American congressional members are not surprising. Traditionally, black congressional members — the Democrats at least — vote in line with the left-leaning NAACP. “The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has traditionally done very well on our report card,” points out Kweisi Mfume, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP. “Considering the fact that African American congresspeople traditionally lead all other members in scoring on the report card, the question becomes are the other members of congress going to improve their grades.”

While that question may be impossible to answer, analysts believe that the report card does have an impact on elected officials. “Those black politicians who got a C on the score card would be in some trouble back home among their voters,” says Robert Charles Smith, professor of political science at San Francisco State University. “I think they know that, and, therefore, they pay some attention to it.” He adds that even nonblack officials with a substantial number of African American constituents would be concerned about their grade.

Every two years, the NAACP selects roll call votes crucial to its agenda. Legislators’ grades reflect how many times their votes matched the NAACP’s position. By midterm of the 107th Congress, the NAACP had tracked 22 key votes in the Senate and 14 in the House. Other grades for African American congress members include 24 As, eight Bs, three Cs, and an incomplete for Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), who was elected in June 2001.The NAACP has issued a report card for all members of the House and Senate since 1914.

Not surprisingly, the sole failing grade among blacks in Congress was given to Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), the only black Republican and the only one who is not a member of the CBC. Watts, who voted in line with the NAACP 21% of the time, voted against NAACP counsel on matters such as the president’s tax plan, “high-stakes” testing, which would require students in certain grade levels to pass standardized tests, and school voucher provisions of the Education Reform bill and Faith-Based Initiative legislation, which Watts himself sponsored.

Watts’ office repudiates the NAACP’s assessment. “Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. has championed a long record of legislative initiatives and accomplishments through Congress aimed at strengthening Americans of African decent,” states spokesperson Kyle Downey. Downey asserts that Watts’ efforts have yielded African Americans a $26 million funding increase for historically black colleges and universities and the creation of 40 renewable communities through the American Community Renewal Act. The act, signed into law in December 2000, creates government-designated areas in lower-income neighborhoods that provide pro-growth tax benefits, environmental clean up, and home ownership

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