- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2000

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' condemnation of Gov. Jeb Bush's plans to end affirmative action in Florida drew sharp criticism Thursday that the agency is partisan and out of touch with Americans' views on racial quotas.
"This is nothing more than a political hatchet job," said Rep. Charles T. Canady, Florida Republican and chairman of a House panel that oversees the agency. "It is clear that a majority of the commission is just playing a nasty, partisan political game."
The agency, with six Democratic and two Republican appointees, conducted a unusual "poll vote" of its members Thursday to approve a statement highly critical of Mr. Bush's "One Florida" plan. The proposal would eliminate racial preferences in university admissions and guarantee enrollment to any high school seniors in the top 20 percent of their classes.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, responded to the commission's action Thursday with this statement: "The commission has been taken hostage by misinformed extremists totally out of touch with the principles of the American people. In fact, the commission's recent conduct is absolutely pathetic."
By late Thursday, the commission had yet to release its vote or its final statement. A spokesman said the vote had taken place, but he had no further information.
Repeated calls to Chairman Mary Frances Berry were not returned. Commission sources said a report is likely to be released early next week.
Republican appointees Russell Redenbaugh and Carl Anderson voted against the statement, which is not legally binding. The Democratic majority routinely falls in step with Miss Berry.
"We strongly object to this statement and to the way it has been pushed through … out of the public's eye, without providing the opportunity for open discussion," Mr. Anderson and Mr. Redenbaugh said in a prepared statement.
The dissenting commissioners said the Democratic majority is ignoring Americans' desire to phase out racial preferences.
"Courts across the nation are striking down racial preferences and set-asides," they said. "The majority of Americans do not support race-based preferences."
The commission's statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times this week, also criticizes the affirmative action record of Mr. Bush's brother, Texas Gov. George W. Bush. One of the Democratic commissioners, Christopher Edley, is an adviser to Vice President Al Gore, who is George Bush's likely opponent in the presidential race.
Mr. Canady, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution, said it was a "disgrace" for the commission to take the vote without an open discussion.
"All of this affects their credibility," Mr. Canady said in an interview. "There is a partisan majority dedicated to carrying out a partisan agenda. They're simply looking for an opportunity to launch a partisan attack on the governor of Florida and the governor of Texas."
The Gore campaign did not return several phone messages about the matter.
Jeb Bush, a Republican, had urged the commission in a letter to reconsider its vote.
"It is hard to discern a nonpolitical reason for such a hasty rush to judgment," the Florida governor wrote. "I am deeply troubled that the commission would take a formal, official position against my initiative without even seeking to contact any member of my administration."
Critics of the agency's poll vote, held one week before its regular monthly meeting, said it was timed to take place before a court hearing Friday on a lawsuit that challenges the One Florida plan. But that court session was postponed Thursday for at least one week.
Mr. Bush said diversity will not suffer when race is eliminated as a factor in university admissions and state contracting.

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