- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2000

The chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights yesterday called Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida "Scrooge" in a report assailing his campaign to end affirmative action but said it was not personal.

"It isn't even about Jeb Bush," said Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "His name could have been Oliver Twist, or Scrooge, and still the result would have been the same."

The commission voted 6-2 in secret session last week to adopt the report on an unusual "poll vote" of its members. Miss Berry said yesterday the panel has conducted "several" such votes in recent years. Other sources at the commission said the agency has conducted three poll votes since June 1995.

The agency's 10-page report urges states with affirmative-action programs to keep them in place, but offers scant evidence that race-neutral percentage plans in Florida, Texas and California have resulted in fewer minorities enrolled. Black students are enrolling at the University of Texas at about the same rate as they did prior to a 1995 federal court ruling that virtually outlawed affirmative action there.

Jeb Bush told the commission that minority enrollment at Florida State University is up 18 percent this year without the use of racial preferences. Asked whether percentage plans might actually increase diversity in education, Miss Berry replied: "Anything is possible." But these are "experimental" programs, she said, and are not a suitable replacement for affirmative action.

The commission's work appears to be dividing the black community. The liberal Congressional Black Caucus labeled Mr. Bush's plan "unfair and backwards" and asked the commission to hold hearings on the issue but a conservative black advocacy group said the commission has "outlived its usefulness" and perpetuates the stereotype of blacks as victims.

The Democrat-dominated panel yesterday released a study, as first reported last week by The Washington Times, that sharply criticizes Mr. Bush's guarantee of college admission to the top 20 percent of Florida's high school seniors, regardless of race, as an alternative to racial preferences and quotas.

The report obliquely criticizes Jeb Bush's brother, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, citing what it calls the "devastating" impact of Texas' "percentage plan" on Latino and black enrollment in graduate programs. Christopher Edley, a Democratic member of the commission, is an adviser to the campaign of Vice President Al Gore.

Asked whether Mr. Edley should have recused himself from voting on the report, Miss Berry replied: "Mr. Edley is only one member of this commission. He doesn't tell me what to do. This is not about Al Gore, it's not about George W. Bush."

Indeed, although the report finds fault with Texas' efforts to improve diversity in higher education since 1995 all during George W. Bush's administration Miss Berry took pains yesterday not to credit the Texas governor for any involvement.

"George W. Bush has nothing to do with the plan in Texas at all it was done by experts, Latino and black experts, at the University of Texas in Austin," she said.

The Center for New Black Leadership, a conservative nonprofit group based in Washington, said that the commission's report was "neither civil nor right."

"Millions of black Americans believe government policy should not be developed on the premise of 'blacks' victimization,' " said Chairman Peter Kirsanow. "African-Americans should celebrate black achievement as evidence of our dignity, humanity, intelligence and our ability to do for ourselves, not for our power to leverage special benefits from the state. That's what a true civil rights commission would advocate."

The agency," he said, "has deteriorated into a spiteful, political, vindictive and obstructionist institution."

Rep. Corrine Brown, Florida Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a prepared statement yesterday that Jeb Bush's plan will result in "fewer minorities in our top institutions."

"Florida has a terrible history that we cannot ignore: It has a past filled with hate and destruction, and the One Florida plan [devised by Gov. Jeb Bush] ignores our history," she said.

The commission, which has no enforcement power, was created in 1957 to monitor civil rights. The agency is scheduled to address a report on Friday that is expected to be highly critical of New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's handling of police matters. Mr. Giuliani is the likely Republican opponent of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for a New York Senate seat.

Critics within the agency and in Congress this week accused the panel of partisan politics, which Miss Berry disputed yesterday. However, she said, having a governor named Bush in Florida was a fortunate coincidence.

"I can't help it because the governor's named Bush," she said. "I had nothing to do with that. It's just serendipity."

Pressed by reporters about why she had compared Jeb Bush to Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly character of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Miss Berry said: "That was unfortunate. Maybe I should call him 'Santa Claus.' How's that?"

Justin Sayfie, a spokesman for Jeb Bush, responded, "This debate is too important to resort to name-calling. It's unfortunate that the commission chose to take a position against a plan that will expand diversity and increase opportunity for minorities in higher education. That's the ultimate irony."

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