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Four Worst Black Congresspersons Revealed


  Latest Report Card Also Evaluates non-Black Reps. with Large Black Constituencies



By Leutisha Stills, CBC Monitor Legislative Analyst



"The ‘derelicts' provide cover for wavering members of the Caucus."



The envelope has been opened and the Worst Black Congresspersons are, in order of dereliction of duty to their constituencies: Sanford Bishop (GA), Artur Davis (AL), David Scott (GA), and William Jefferson (LA). The Four Derelicts earned the dishonor through the average of their votes, as documented in the five CBC (Congressional Black Caucus) Monitor Report Cards issued since September 2005, when the Monitor began evaluating the legislative behavior of the Congressional Black Caucus.




U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop



In the current Report Card, for the first time the CBC Monitor also rated the 29 non-Black members of Congress whose constituencies are 25 percent or more African American. Every Republican failed miserably, while southern Democrats, with a few exceptions, scored below even the worst-performing Black legislators in the U.S. House.




click here to view the September 2007 Report Card



The twice-yearly Report Cards reveal a Caucus that no longer functions as a coherent body, and can therefore no longer claim to be "the conscience of the Congress." Despite the self-congratulations and ceremonial solidarity displayed at the CBC's annual galas in Washington, the Caucus has in reality fractured into three general tendencies: a consistently progressive, often courageous group, comprising about one-third of the membership; a larger fraction that usually adheres to the historical Black Political Consensus on issues of peace, and social and economic justice, but can be swayed under pressures from moneyed powers; and a small but disruptive, thoroughly corporate-bought faction that has abandoned the African American political legacy.



"Despite the self-congratulations and ceremonial solidarity displayed at the CBC's annual galas in Washington , the Caucus has in reality fractured into three general

te ndencies."



This Right Wing of the Caucus, previously headed by former Memphis Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., has made it impossible for the CBC to move as a body in fulfillment of its progressive mission, since the Caucus has traditionally acted on the basis of unanimity or near-unanimity. In effect, the corporatists exercise veto power. The "derelicts" also provide cover for wavering members of the Caucus, those who can go either way on critical votes. As a result, the consistently progressive element has found it must often operate outside the CBC (for example, Maxine Waters' and Barbara Lee's Out of Iraq Caucus).



For the last two Report Card periods (the second half of 2006 and the first half of 2007), few pieces of legislation have moved to the floor of the House that would dramatically reveal the fissures in the CBC, although the core of the corporatist faction and the shining stars of the Honor Society still stand out. The bigger picture becomes clear over time, in the averaged Report Cards that track Members' behavior over the last two and a half years, during which time two-thirds of the CBC voted with the telecom corporations on cable and Internet regulations, and large factions sided with Big Money on bankruptcy, the estate tax, and energy issues.



Challengers also affect the behavior of the CBC's Right Wing. Georgia's David Scott was a consistent "derelict" until challenged by Donzella James for his suburban Atlanta seat, in 2006. Scott, with access to millions in corporate cash, won handily - but was scared enough to slightly modify his previously knee-jerk pro-corporate actions. However, Scott's past history puts him firmly in the "worst" category, and he was still among the four Members that scored at the bottom of the class in the current Report Card, at 70 percent or less, along with Georgia's Sanford Bishop, Alabama's Artur Davis, and Brooklyn, New York freshman Yvette Clarke. (Clarke's offense was not so much in voting wrong, as in failing to show up, having been absent for many of the ten votes on which the current Report Card is based.)




U.S. Congressman David Scott



"Yvette Clarke's offense was not so much in voting wrong, as in failing to show up."



Maryland's Albert Wynn, who scored 80 percent on the current Card, has dramatically altered his behavior since narrowly defeating progressive challenger Donna Edwards, in 2006. Wynn was one of four CBC members that voted to give War Powers to George Bush, in 2002, along with Sanford Bishop (GA), William Jefferson (LA), and Harold Ford, Jr. (TN). Faced with an opponent from the Left, Wynn joined the Out of Iraq Caucus and began acting as if he were born again, voting-wise. Edwards is making another run for Wynn's seat, so we can expect that he won't backslide to the Right before November, 2008.



Both Donna Edwards and Donzella James drew on CBC Monitor's Report Cards to denounce Wynn and Scott. Accountability has an effect.



The pressures on New Orleans Rep. William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson are legal and demographic, threatening to remove him and his population-depleted congressional district from the political landscape. Jefferson began voting better as the FBI drew closer, but not sufficiently to bring his averages above 64 percent. He's still among the "worst," despite scoring 80 on the current Card.



The really bad news is in the person of Artur Davis (AL), who deployed loads of corporate and pro-Israel cash to defeat progressive Rep. Earl Hilliard, in 2002 - the year the same forces performed identical services for Denise Majette in her defeat of Georgia's Cynthia McKinney. Davis is the darling of the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and the Democratic Party's Black recruiter for congressional candidates in the South. It speaks volumes for the Democratic Party that it would choose as its Black favorite the CBC member who scored the lowest averaged grade: 50 percent. 




Only the despicable Harold Ford, Jr. could have done worse. He's now chairman of the DLC, and pulling down big bucks as a vice chairman and senior policy advisor at the mega-predatory Merrill Lynch & Co. - the people he's been voting for all along. When Ford left the House for a losing bid for a U.S. Senate seat, his average was tied with Sanford Bishop's, at 32.5% - at the very bottom of the heap.



The Good News



The scores of individual CBC members and the body as a whole most often vary every six months because the House legislative menu varies. The great issues that separate progressives from shaky legislators from derelicts don't always come up - therefore, the truly ugly actors sometimes seem to merge with the merely mediocre. But genuinely dedicated lawmakers stand out in all seasons. In the current Report Card, three CBC members scored 100 percent for their perfect records on ten bills on affordable housing, the Iraq war (four bills), the rights of labor, government surveillance, health insurance for children, racial discrimination claims, and hate crimes.



"Three CBC members scored 100 percent for their perfect records."



The super-novas of the CBC so far in this 110th Congress are: Barbara Lee (CA), John Lewis (GA), and the freshman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison.




U.S. Congressman John Lewis



The four votes on funding the Iraq war accounted for much of the variance that existed in Caucus scores. We at CBC Monitor penalize Black lawmakers that play House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's games on issues of world peace and domestic transformation.



Six members scored 90 percent and above, earning their status in the Honor Society: Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL), Gwen Moore (MN), Donald Payne (NJ), Maxine Waters (CA) - who unfortunately had to be penalized for absences - Diane Watson (CA), and Melvin Watt (NC) - a terrible CBC chairman during his tenure, but a sterling voter.



The pantheon of CBC members that deserve the highest status in the Honor Society for righteous service to their constituents over all five Report Card rating periods is comprised of these 14 luminaries:



Barbara Lee (CA), 100 percent

Gwen Moore (WI), 96 percent

John Lewis (GA), 95 percent

Maxine Waters (CA), 95 percent

Charles Rangel (NY), 94 percent

Bobby Scott (VA), 94 percent

Diane Watson (CA), 94 percent

John Conyers, Jr. (MI), 93 percent

Melvin Watt (NC), 94 percent

Carolyn Kilpatrick (MI), 92 percent

Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (OH), 91 percent

Chaka Fattah (PA), 90 percent

Julia Carson (CA), 90 percent

Donald Payne (NJ), 90 percent



Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (CA) would certainly have been part of this stellar grouping. Her last averaged score was 95 percent. She died of cancer in April.



Expanded Ratings: Non-Blacks Representing African Americans



The CBC Monitor began as a permanent project to make Black lawmakers accountable to the progressive values held by the vast majority of African Americans. However, we realized that we were leaving out of the equation non-Black congresspersons with large Black constituencies, who should also be put under the spotlight. Twenty-nine non-Blacks represent districts with 25 percent or more African American residents. The bulk are in the South, and 13 are represented by Republicans.



"We realized that we were leaving out of the equation non-Black congresspersons with large Black constituencies."



Seven of the GOP lawmakers scored zero - meaning, their Black constituents had no representation at all, and in fact are living in enemy-controlled territory. Fully one-third of Alabama and Virginia Congressmen Mike Rogers' and Randy Forbes' districts are Black, yet these racists vote against Black interests on every occasion. Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot, the only GOP northerner in this category, doesn't give a damn about the 27.5 percent of his constituents who are Black; he scores zero.



In Louisiana, three congressional districts where white men claim to speak "for the people" are fully one-third Black; another is a quarter Black. In three of these heavily African American districts, their congressman voted with Black interests only once, for a 10 percent score. The other white congressman, Jim McCrery, scored a 20 - the highest of any GOP Representative in the nation with a district a quarter or more Black.



All three of the white Alabama congresspersons with large Black constituencies scored zero.



In Mississippi, the nation's Blackest state, Rep. Chip Pickering could only bring himself to vote with the 36.5 percent of his constituents who are Black 15 percent of the time.



The 16 non-Black Democrats with large African American constituencies are a very mixed bag. Nine Dems, all of them from southern or border states, are "Underachievers" or "Derelicts" with scores in the 70s and below - most of them far below. The worst example is North Carolina's Bob Eldridge, a "derelict" with a 30 score and a 30.4 percent Black base - surely the same people who put him in office in a district where large majorities of whites vote Republican. Georgia's John Barrow, representing a 44.8 Black Georgia constituency, is a 40 percent "derelict."




U.S. Congressman John Barrow



The King of the Hill is Rep. Jose Serrano, the Bronx Puerto Rican who scores 90 percent, and thus qualifies for the CBC Monitor's Honor Society. His district is 36 percent African American - and includes a lot more Afro-Caribbeans.



Five white Democrats earned "Consensus" grades - 80 percent - meaning they are smack dab in the middle of the voting performance of the Congressional Black Caucus. They are: Cathy Castor (FL), Brad Miller (NC), Eliot Engel (NY), Louise Slaughter (NY), and Steve Cohen (TN).



"Steve Cohen took Ford's vacated Memphis seat by making common cause with the historical Black Political Consensus."



Rep. Cohen's journey is perhaps the most telling. A white Jew running on a progressive platform, he replaced the deplorable Harold Ford, Jr. in a 60 percent Black district. In doing so, Cohen gave the lie to the corporate media canard that the presence of Black corporatists (usually called "centrists") in the CBC proved that African Americans were becoming more "conservative."  Blacks stepped across the color line to vote their interests - as we always have. While Harold Ford made campaign stops at redneck hangouts sporting Confederate flags in his doomed race to become a U.S. Senator from Tennessee, Steve Cohen took Ford's vacated Memphis seat by making common cause with the historical Black Political Consensus. There is no rightward drift among Blacks, as every objective measurement has demonstrated - although there is a torrent of corporate disinformation and deceptive narrative.



So there you have it: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The Ugliest members of the Congressional Black Caucus, past and present, are scheduled to be revealed and reviled at Duke City restaurant and nightclub, 1208 "U" Street" NW, Washington, DC, on Wednesday evening, September 26. The four "worst" examples will be dishonored with Lawn Jockey Awards.



If you've carefully read this article, you know who they are.

Leutisha Stills can be contacted at





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