- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

BALTIMORE Texas Gov. George W. Bush yesterday promised several hundred delegates at the annual NAACP convention that he will enhance social programs and cultural expectations to boost private homeownership, public education and health care for the poor.

"There is reason for optimism in this land," Mr. Bush said, his brow furrowed. "A great movement of education reform has begun in this country, built on clear principles: to raise the bar of standards, expect every child can learn; to give schools the flexibility to meet those standards; to measure progress and insist upon results; to blow the whistle on failure; to provide parents with options to increase their option, like charters and choice."

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee clearly understood that his 15-minute speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was to a group of a different political persuasion.

"For those of you who support me I see a couple here, maybe more than a couple I hope you won't change your opinion," he said. "And for those of you who don't, I hope at least you … give me a chance to tell you what's in my heart."

He continued: "So while some in my party have avoided the NAACP, and while some in the NAACP have avoided my party, I am proud to be here."

His levity eased some tension and elicited some laughs, but the reaction was mostly tepid.

Mr. Bush walked onto the dais flanked by NAACP board Chairman Julian Bond and President Kweisi Mfume.

Minutes after sitting down, three protesters held up signs proclaiming the innocence of Texas convict Gary Graham, who was executed in June for a a 1981 murder he committed in Houston.

The trio was escorted out, still holding the signs for eager news cameras.

Mr. Bush's chance for acceptance among the group was slim. He faced a crowd that has been inundated with Democratic officials since the conference began Sunday.

An hour before Mr. Bush's appearance, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat, held a news conference and referred to her governor's record as a "do-nothing for African-Americans" record.

Another group anonymously circulated fliers before Mr. Bush's appearance that criticized the governor's record on black issues.

"It was like Daniel in the lion's den," said Shannon Reeves, president of the NAACP chapter in Oakland, Calif., a Republican who has taken heat from the group's leadership for his political stances.

"But he came out with dignity and showed extreme leadership," he said. "[Vice President Al] Gore wouldn't go speak to the Christian Coalition or address the [National Rifle Association]. Bush went into a house that was clearly Democratic."

During his comments, Mr. Bush spoke of personal responsibility and taking advantage of opportunity. He acknowledged that "discrimination is still a reality."

"Instead of Jim Crow, there's racial redlining and profiling," Mr. Bush said. "Instead of 'separate but equal,' there is 'separate and forgotten.' Strong civil rights enforcement will be a cornerstone of myadministration.

"And I will confront another form of bias the soft bigotry of low expectations," Mr. Bush vowed.

He promised to work to improve relations, saying, "Our nation is harmed when we let our differences divide us."

Mr. Bush's few supporters there many of them party members appreciated his brief appearance.

"He did an outstanding job on communicating where he stood on health care, education and faith-based organizations," said Angela Sailor, director of black affairs at the Republican National Committee. "He showed his willingness and interest in expanding and opening opportunities for African Americans."

But the majority of conventioneers remained critical and skeptical of the governor.

"Bush didn't tell me anything," said Alonzo Jones, from Oklahoma City. "He could have told us that he supported school vouchers, instead he beat around the bush, using words like 'choice.' "

"We still haven't forgotten Bob Jones University," said Winston Ross, a delegate from Westchester County, N.Y. Mr. Bush spoke at the private school in South Carolina that, until recently, had barred interracial dating.

"The only worse thing he could have done today is not to have shown up."

Mr. Gore will address conventioneers tomorrow.

Over the past several weeks, Mr. Bush has spoken to a handful of minority groups, including the Congress of Racial Equality and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Mr. Bush hopes such appearances will broaden his appeal and that of the Republican Party, said campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan.

"This is part of an effort to bring Hispanics and African-Americans into the Republican Party," Mr. Sullivan said. "He is sincere about this and is open to all of these organizations."

Mr. Bush received 15 percent of the black vote when he was elected governor in 1994. In 1998, he was re-elected with the help of 27 percent of the black vote.

Mr. Mfume did not address the crowd during Mr. Bush's appearance, but did make several implicit criticisms of the Texas governor earlier in the day.

Less than three hours before Mr. Bush's appearance, in the same room but to a larger crowd, the former Democratic congressman from Maryland called for an end to the death penalty and assailed a Bush-promoted plan to partially privatize Social Security.

On other issues, Mr. Mfume also called black South Carolina state lawmakers who backed a compromise that left the Confederate flag flying on Statehouse property "weak-kneed, shifty-eyed, back-bending legislators."

"Until the flag is removed from a place of sovereignty, there will be no compromise on the Confederate flag," he said in his hourlong address, adding that the NAACP's boycott of South Carolina would continue.

The Confederate flag was removed July 1 from the Capitol dome in Columbia, but under a compromise worked out in the legislature, another was erected on a 30-foot flagpole on the Statehouse grounds.

State Sen. Robert Ford, Charleston Democrat, called Mr. Mfume's remarks insulting.

"If that gentleman had respect for us … he would have at least called us to ask why we did what we did," Mr. Ford said. "We have resolved our issue … to the best of our ability."

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