The Democrat-dominated U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is ramming through an unusual vote this week to condemn Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida’s plan to end affirmative action in education, The Washington Times has learned.
Commission sources said the agency will conduct a “poll vote” of its eight members tomorrow one week before its regular monthly meeting to approve a statement that criticizes Mr. Bush’s One Florida Plan as an “unprovoked stealth acknowledgment that … segregation will never change.”
The vote by the ostensibly bipartisan agency will take place one day before a court hearing in Tallahassee on a lawsuit by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that challenges the Florida plan. A Republican commission member said yesterday the agency’s six-member Democratic majority is forcing the seldom-used voting procedure to conceal political motives.
“The poll vote is being used in this instance to keep any discussion or dissent off the public record,” said Commissioner Russell Redenbaugh. “This issue does not rise to that level of gravity or urgency.”
A commission source said the agency has conducted a poll vote on only one other occasion in the past five years.
The commission’s 10-page statement also takes a swipe at Mr. Bush’s brother, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, for a poor record on affirmative action. One of the Democratic commissioners, Christopher Edley, is an adviser to the presidential campaign of George Bush’s opponent, Vice President Al Gore.
Mr. Edley is also an ardent defender on affirmative action who ghost-wrote a book for President Clinton on race relations.
Mr. Redenbaugh and Carl Anderson are the Republicans on the commission. The Democrats are Mr. Edley, Cruz Reynoso, Yvonne Lee, Elsie Meeks, Victoria Wilson and the commission’s chairman, Mary Frances Berry.
The commission’s statement also criticizes Jeb Bush’s school-voucher plan and declares, “Florida should keep affirmative action unless forced to abandon it.”
The pending vote was criticized by Linda Chavez, who served as executive director of the commission from 1983 to 1985.
“They are simply injecting themselves into a political battle, and it seems highly improper,” she said. “This is totally outside of their mandate.”
A source close to the commission said the vote is “a political ploy to attack both Bushes. It’s timed to embarrass both Bushes and intervene in a judicial proceeding.”
The same source acknowledged that opponents of the vote were hoping to head off the action by calling attention to it. The vote would not be legally binding.
Normally, the commission discusses and votes in open sessions, which must be announced with 30 days’ notice in the Federal Register. Commissioners were told of this week’s vote on Friday by staff director Ruby Moy, who said in a memo that the chairman “believes that this statement needs to be released quickly in light of its timeliness and the fact that events are moving rapidly in this area.”
Phone calls to the commission yesterday were not returned.
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. A General Accounting Office report in 1998 found the agency in “disarray” and unable to accomplish its mission.
Mr. Anderson strongly objected to the hasty vote in a memo on Monday. “There is no reason to push this statement through on a poll vote,” he wrote. “The concerns raised by the statement are too important and complex to bypass a full discussion by the commission.”
The Florida governor issued an order in November ending race-based affirmative-action plans in university admissions and state contracting. The plan guarantees that high school seniors in the top 20 percent of their class will be admitted to state universities regardless of test scores.
In Texas, admission to state universities is guaranteed to seniors in the top 10 percent of their classes.
The commission’s statement calls the percentage plans “effective public relations strategy.”
“Race-conscious affirmative action has not brought nearly enough black and Latino students into undergraduate, graduate or professional higher education programs,” the statement says. “The percentage plans will do no better and probably worse.”
Jeb Bush’s school-voucher plan has been declared unconstitutional by a state judge. His administration plans to appeal. The Opportunity Scholarship Program provided students in failing public schools with state funds that could be used to pay tuition at private schools.
The commission’s statement says the voucher plan “does nothing to ameliorate the deplorable conditions of Florida schools and simply allows a small number of students to flee failing public schools.”