- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

John Ashcroft, President-elect George W. Bush’s choice to be America’s top law enforcement officer, once hailed Confederate war heroes as “patriots” and said they should not be portrayed as having died for “some perverted agenda.”
The former Republican senator from Missouri tapped to be the next attorney general also has advocated an increased role for charities while opposing federal money for drug treatment, saying government assistance shouldn’t further the “lowest and least” conduct.
A decade ago he refused to sign a presidential panel’s report that concluded America was falling behind in efforts to bring equality to minorities, calling it too negative.
As Missouri governor from 1985 to 1993, Mr. Ashcroft signed into law a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King, the slain civil rights leader; established musician Scott Joplin’s house as Missouri’s only historic site honoring a black person; created an award honoring black educator George Washington Carver; named a black woman to a state judgeship; and led a fight to save Lincoln University, which was founded by black soldiers.
When he considered becoming Republican Party chairman in 1993, he urged Republicans to be “tolerant” and to avoid being “mistakenly portrayed as petty, divisive and mean-spirited.”
As his soon-to-be former colleagues in the Senate prepare for Mr. Ashcroft’s confirmation hearings, the conservative senator’s speeches, writings, interviews and record in public office are being heavily scrutinized. Democrats and critics such as liberal black leaders have made clear they intend to make Mr. Ashcroft’s civil rights record an issue.
His record shows he vigorously sought to end abortions, advocated a larger role for charities, pushed amendments that would permanently alter the Constitution for various conservative causes and sent what critics say is a mixed message on race and poverty issues.
In a 1998 interview criticized by liberal black leaders in his state, Mr. Ashcroft took issue with efforts by some historians to portray early Americans, like slave-owning George Washington, as racist, calling them “malicious attacks” and “revisionist nonsense.”
“Your magazine also helps set the record straight,” Mr. Ashcroft told the Southern Partisan, a 2-decade-old periodical that has published articles defending Confederate soldiers and political figures and once sold a T-shirt commemorating Abraham Lincoln with the phrase his assassin uttered, “Thus always to tyrants.”
“You’ve got a heritage of … defending Southern patriots like [Gen. Robert E.] Lee, [Gen. Stonewall] Jackson and [Confederate President Jefferson] Davis,” Mr. Ashcroft said in an interview. At the time, he was courting conservatives for a possible presidential candidacy.
“We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda,” he said.
Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bush’s transition, said Mr. Ashcroft’s comments reflected that he “believes in an exact reading on history.”
“He holds sacred the legacies of Jefferson, Washington and Martin Luther King,” she said. “Senator Ashcroft’s favorite historical figure is Abraham Lincoln. He has been an avid student of history.”
In the Southern Partisan interview, Mr. Ashcroft also was asked about his views on a girl who was sent home from school because she displayed a Confederate flag on her knapsack.
“The right of individuals to respect our history is a right that the politically correct crowd wants to eliminate, and this is just not acceptable,” he said.
In 1988, after Mr. Ashcroft served on a federal commission that studied the plight of minorities in America, he refused to sign the panel’s final report.
That report concluded that the nation was slipping in its efforts to achieve equality for blacks, Hispanics and Indians and that many minorities were “afflicted by the ills of poverty and deprivation.”
Mr. Ashcroft was one of only two persons on the 40-member panel, which included former Presidents Ford and Carter and King’s widow, Coretta, to refuse to endorse the findings.
Mr. Ashcroft’s office said at the time that he believed the report’s portrayal of minorities was too negative and that its “generalizations about setbacks in progress are overly broad and counterproductive.”
Mrs. Glover Weiss said Mr. Ashcroft was instrumental in getting the panel created by the president, but when “the report was written, he was acutely disappointed and believed it had missed some opportunities.
“He believed that it addressed the plight of some minorities, but it didn’t address all minorities,” she said.
A decade later, Mr. Ashcroft found himself under attack from black leaders after he helped scuttle a federal judgeship for Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, the first black on the state’s high court.
Mr. Ashcroft said he considered Justice White to be soft on criminals, and noted he had supported 23 of the 26 nominations of black judges during his Senate tenure. But liberal black leaders pledged to work against Mr. Ashcroft’s re-election.
In the Senate, Mr. Ashcroft pushed “charitable choice” legislation that empowered charities and religious organizations to better assist the needy. He has spoken out, however, against using federal funds for drug treatment.
“A government which takes the resources that we would devote toward the interdiction of drugs and converts them to treatment resources … and then assures citizens that if you’re involved in drugs we’ll be there to catch you with a treatment center and also implements a clean needle program is a government that accommodates us at our lowest and least instead of calls us to our highest and best,” he said in a speech.
Mr. Ashcroft also was criticized by Democrats and some civil rights leaders for accepting an honorary degree and giving the commencement speech at Bob Jones University, which once opposed interracial marriages and dating.
The senator said he was unaware of the university’s views when he gave the speech but declined to return the degree.
Said Mrs. Glover Weiss, “He will be an exceptionally strong enforcer of the civil rights laws as he has been a proponent in Missouri and throughout his career.”

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