- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2000

The office of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush yesterday told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that its criticism of the governor's plans to end affirmative action is filled with inaccuracies and half-truths.

The governor's office complained that the commission, which has scheduled a vote for today to condemn Mr. Bush's proposals, never contacted the governor's office, the state board of regents or the state education department for information about the "One Florida" initiative.

"We would encourage the commission before they vote to give the governor an opportunity to discuss in detail the One Florida plan," said spokeswoman Elizabeth Hirst. "There has been a lot of misunderstanding, but the bottom line is that Governor Bush feels very strongly and is very confident that his plan will expand diversity in Florida's university system."

Meanwhile, a Republican congressman criticized the commission's action as "blatant political interference."

"This is one of the reasons they don't have the respect they'd like to have," Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, said of the agency.

Mr. Barr sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight duties for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The Democrat-dominated commission is proceeding with a hasty "poll vote" of its eight members today, one week before its regular monthly meeting.

Commissioners are being asked to approve a 10-page statement that criticizes the action of Mr. Bush, a Republican, as an "unprovoked stealth acknowledgment that … segregation will never change."

Critics of the vote say it is timed for the day before a court hearing in Florida on a challenge to Mr. Bush's plan by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The two Republican appointees on the commission, Russell Redenbaugh and Carl Anderson, have objected to the timing of the vote.

The governor in November recommended that the state board of regents replace race and sex preferences in university admissions with a neutral admissions policy. The One Florida plan would guarantee high school seniors in the top 20 percent of their class a slot at a state university regardless of test scores.

But the commission's statement declares, "Florida should keep affirmative action unless forced to abandon it."

Mr. Barr, who has been critical of the commission in the past, said its latest action is "very inappropriate."

"Not only are they interfering in the political process, they're interfering in the judicial process as well," Mr. Barr said.

The draft statement also criticizes Mr. Bush's brother, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, for a perceived poor record on affirmative action. George W. Bush is the likely Republican presidential nominee, and one of the commissioners, Democrat Christopher Edley, is an adviser to the presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore.

A source close to the commission told The Washington Times on Tuesday that the vote was intended, in part, to embarrass the Bush brothers politically.

Mindy Tucker, a spokeswoman for the Bush for President campaign, responded, "We certainly hope that this is not an effort to politicize the issue of race. We think it's important to work for unity instead of pitting groups against each other."

The campaign of Mr. Gore did not return phone calls seeking comment on the commission's actions.

George W. Bush has instituted a plan in Texas guaranteeing the top 10 percent of high school seniors admission to state universities. Ms. Tucker said minority enrollment in Texas is now at the same level it had reached before a 1995 federal court ruling that virtually eliminated racial preferences in admissions in the state.

Jeb Bush encountered resistance on many fronts after signing the executive order on affirmative action in November. Two black lawmakers staged a sit-in in Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan's office in January. In February, demonstrators from throughout the country protested at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

But the Tampa Tribune reported last month that minority enrollment at Florida State University is up 18 percent this year without any racial preferences.

Miss Hirst promised that the commission's action will not deter the governor's move toward the elimination of quotas.

"The governor will continue on his path because he believes it's the right thing to do," she said.

Washington state and California also have ended affirmative action in university admissions. The commission's statement criticizes the plans in Texas and California for reducing minority enrollment while serving as "effective public relations strategy."

"Florida is proposing to voluntarily inflict this harm by ending affirmative action," the statement says.

Jeb Bush's office told the commission yesterday that an initiative supporting affirmative action in Florida has not qualified for the ballot because supporters haven't been able to collect enough signatures.

The Florida governor has said his plan is "intentional" about diversity in college admissions and state contracting without using racial quotas. He has proposed a six-part plan that includes passing anti-discrimination laws to root out bias by state procurement agents.

Minority Business magazine has said of the proposals in Florida: "Bush's plan has strong procurement accountability features to ensure that minority contractors have a fair shake at state contracts."

The commission monitors the enforcement of civil rights laws, investigates cases of discrimination and voting rights violations, and has the authority to hold hearings and issue subpoenas.

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