- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

There may be only one institution in America where a black woman from Mississippi could be excluded because of a quota. Sadly, this institution is the Democratic Party, which purports to be the party of civil rights.Mamie Cunningham a 58-year-old black school teacher from northern Mississippi has been told by Democratic Party officials that, because of party rules mandating gender quotas, she must give up her position as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. The Mississippi delegation had too many women and not enough men to satisfy the Democrats' quota.In some ways, it is not surprising that the Democrats' gender quota would actually work against women. For one thing, women are disproportionately Democratic, as evidenced by the widening gender gap in recent presidential elections. Moreover, it is often easier to become active within a political party's structure if one is available on weekdays to attend meetings.Although women increasingly work outside the home, they are still more likely to work fewer hours and have greater flexibility in their schedule.

However, since 1980, the Democratic Party has mandated that the delegations be split evenly between men and women. In addition to the rigid gender quota, in 1984 the national party asked each of its state affiliates to set "goals" for racial and ethnic representation among their delegates. The targets mirror each state's racial and ethnic composition. For example, Washington state's Democratic Party "goals" call for 7 percent of the state's delegates to be Asian-American, 6.1 percent Hispanic, 2.9 percent black and 1.9 percent Native American.

Many state parties have supplemented the nationally mandated racial and ethnic "goals" with quotas for other minority groups. California, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island are among the states with designated slots for gays and lesbians and Michigan sets aside spots for Arab-Americans. One wonders how the state parties with gay and lesbian quotas go about implementing them. Does saying you're gay suffice or must proof be provided that one has engaged in gay sex or at least felt attraction to someone of the same sex? Furthermore, where do bisexuals and transsexuals fit in? Of course, the only simple and logical answer is that who a person has consensual sex with should not affect their ability to participate in the political process.

Although the Republican National Committee (RNC) has outreach programs to recruit black and Hispanic voters, it does not have delegate quotas and does not even keep statistics on delegates' race, gender, or sexual orientation. RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson noted that "Sexual discrimination is wrong, wherever it occurs, and no matter what the excuse." When a woman with Mamie Cunningham's history is kicked off the Mississippi Democrat delegation for no other reason than that she's a woman, it should trouble all Americans.

However, the Republican Party is not always the paragon of equal rights. At this year's Texas GOP Convention, the Log Cabin Republicans' application for a booth was denied. Nevertheless, this pales in comparison to the Democratic Party's national quota regime. First, the Log Cabin Republicans are full participants in the national convention. Moreover, being a delegate is more an official aspect of a convention than operating a booth. Indeed, even in Texas, openly gay Republicans were not prevented from being delegates. For the record, neither the Libertarian, Reform, or Green parties have delegate quotas. It is time for the Democratic Party to join America's other political parties in looking at its delegates as individuals rather than numbers. If the Democrats fail to change their discriminatory delegate rules, the party could be challenged in court.

More importantly, as the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, Al Gore's continued silent acceptance of these quotas suggests his administration may use the powers of the federal government to impose the Democrats' discriminatory scheme on other American institutions. Ironically, Mrs. Cunningham attended the 1964 Democratic convention where she worked to prohibit the use of racially exclusionary rules in the selection of delegates. Today, Mrs. Cunningham is a victim of the modern racial and gender bean counting regime which has turned the tables on the truly equal rights that she, Martin Luther King Jr. and other 1960s activists championed.

Although Mrs. Cunningham will still be able to make the trip to Los Angeles as an alternate, her experience should demonstrate to Democrats and all Americans that quotas are vile vestiges of the past, which are both morally wrong and grossly unfair.

Marc Levin is executive director of the Houston-based Campaign for a Color-blind America Legal Defense and Educational Foundation.

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