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What If The Congressional Black Caucus Thought Like Senator Jeffords?


Senator Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party and form a working relationship with Democrats got us to thinking. Fortunately, we were able to reflect over Senator Jeffords' decision, free of the anguish felt by many Republicans who spent the last few days parsing the words of Senator Jefford's "departure" speech, looking for evidence of his lack of sincerity or duplicity. Far from embarking on an effort to search the depths of Senator Jeffords' heart, we were struck by the reality that almost any of the reasons offered to explain or justify Jeffords' decision to leave his party would have their best application with the Congressional Black Caucus, if they ever decided to jump the Democratic Party confines.

If Senator Jeffords left the GOP because he was offended at not being invited to the White House when a Vermont teacher was being honored, he has nothing on the disrespect that the CBC often receives from the Democratic Party establishment and even at times from the man that some Blacks shamelessly refer to as "the first Black President", Bill Clinton. Surely, the endless stream of offenses that the CBC has received by its own party would rocket right of the scale of the unofficial "Jeffords' insult meter".

We could even start in the year 2001 if we wanted to, by focusing on the way that CBC members' efforts to elect Maynard Jackson as the chair of the DNC were handled by the Party establishment.

Or, we could turn to a recent story in the Final Call, where Black Caucus member Rep. Earl Hilliard of Alabama is quoted as saying, "The Democratic Party has discriminatory practices. Not only in their hiring practices but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is structured to discriminate. Were tired of being discriminated against and being taken for granted."

Certainly, such a belief is justification for leaving the Democratic Party, if we follow the guidance of our pioneering trailblazer, Senator Jeffords.

If insults aren't enough, perhaps the Black Caucus could take strength from Senator Jefford's assertion that his agenda is no longer compatible with the Republican Party. Surely, the CBC's efforts to reduce the disparity in drug sentencing, raise the issue of reparations and get the Democratic Party and Al Gore to pay attention to voting rights violations and irregularities in Black areas of Florida - all of which have been met with a Democratic brick wall - would qualify under the Senator Jeffords' "incompatibility with your political party" meter. And if we want a single symbol of such incompatibility, we could always focus on the disrespectful manner in which the CBC budget and agenda is handled, each year, by the Democratic Party establishment.

The only match that we could not find in our quest to apply "Jeffords-think" to the Black Caucus, was the opportunity granted by Democrats, to Jeffords, to assume a Party chairmanship. While Black Caucus members would not receive Party chair positions if they left the Democratic Party, they may gain something else in the process - increased self-respect and freedom to be more responsive to their constituents.

We may agree with the Republican Jeffords-haters on that score. After all, not everyone is willing to give the appearance that they are trading their manhood just for the sake of a committee chair position.

Perhaps the most instructive example that Senator Jeffords provided for not only the CBC but for the Black electorate was the manner in which he demonstrated the fruits of a two-party competition for his vote. Feeling that he was being taken for granted by his Party, Senator Jeffords began fielding offers from the competing party. The result is that Senator Jeffords is a more powerful man this week than he was last week and it will be sometime before his vote is ignored and taken for granted, as both parties will be lobbying him on a variety of issues. And perhaps more importantly, Senator Jeffords has let it be known that his vote will be in play. Imagine the Black Caucus and Black electorate in a similar scenario.

Upon Senator Jeffords' announcement, CBC Chair Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson released the following statement:

"I want to commend Senator Jeffords on his decision. Senator Jeffords has taken a stand based on his conscience and the fact that he can not support the policies of the Bush Administration. As Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is often called the "Conscience of Congress," I would like to commend Senator Jeffords for answering the call of his conscience. I intend to call him as soon as possible to arrange a meeting so that we may discuss the CBC's legislative agenda and the tenets of an all-inclusive America. I welcome him to our struggle to make every vote count, secure every child's future, create wealth and fairness in our communities and bring forth an end to health disparities, which affect our community. Thank you."

We certainly share Rep. Johnson's interest in having Senator Jeffords take a good look at the CBC agenda. But perhaps, Senator Jeffords may have expertise on the subject of Independent politics and leveraging power in a two-party system that he would like to share with the Black Caucus.

Actually, he has already spoken to them by his actions.

The Black electorate can only hope that the Black Caucus was listening.


Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, May 29, 2001

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