Racism is alive and thriving in the halls of Capitol Hill - at least that's the contention of one lawmaker. Representative Earl Hilliard, a black Democrat from Alabama, says his Democratic colleagues are guilty of "outright racism" because they employ relatively few blacks on their personal staffs or their congressional committees.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, agreed, saying, "the committee make-up on the Democratic side does not reflect the presence of African-Americans in our nation." By Rep. Hilliard's figures, only three percent of the non-clerical jobs on congressional committees belong to black Americans, while blacks comprise over 12 percent of the general population.
Ironically, the Democrats, the party that has always championed affirmative action set-asides, are less than willing to set quotas for themselves when it comes to minority hiring. When called on the fact that there is only one black face among the 111 Democrat staffers on the House Agriculture Committee, ranking member Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-TX) told The Hill newspaper, "I am constantly looking for people who are qualified. I do not discriminate on color... never have, never will."
Rep. Hilliard is worried about his effort to make his colleagues' staffs "look like America." "We make enemies when we push for blacks on committees," Hilliard said. "Let me tell you, this makes me angry. This is a battle I shouldn't have to fight." Perhaps Rep. Hilliard should consider switching parties. Congressional Republicans have an outstanding record of hiring and retaining blacks in high-level positions.
For example, both the coalitions director and legislative director for House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) are black. One of the lawyers working on Clinton's impeachment hearing is a long-serving black member of the Republican staff of the House Judiciary Committee. A black man serves as the senior counsel to a House Banking Committee subcommittee. Before he left office, Speaker Newt Gingrich's senior writer was black.
Blacks also hold high-level positions in the offices of Senate Republicans Paul Coverdell (R-GA), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Fred Thompson (R-TN). And there are many more blacks among the Republican ranks serving in non-clerical positions at both the committee level and in personal offices.
I might also point out that many black Republican staffers have served in their positions for years. Horace Cooper, Armey's coalitions director, has worked for the majority leader for 11 years. Many others have over five years of substantial Hill experience. These staffers are definitely not tokens.
Republicans are often criticized by Democrats for their opposition to legislation and regulations promoting racial preferences. I wouldn't feel comfortable taking a job where the deciding factor was my blackness. Rep. Hilliard, however, apparently thinks otherwise. In fact, he campaigned for his travel agent, who is black, to receive a position on the International Relations Committee, saying, "she has served as my travel agent and has done a commendable job arranging travel for me around the world... I believe her knowledge of countries and geography has prepared her well."
Come on, does being a travel agent qualify someone to serve on the International Relations Committee, which scrutinizes everything from culture to economics in helping forge our foreign affairs? Republicans, on the other hand, have actually assembled a diverse group of staff members for their caucus simply by relying on ability, merit and accomplishment.
Using race as a deciding factor in employment is never good policy, yet
it is exactly what Rep. Hilliard seems to advocate. Instead of instituting
racial quotas, the Democrats should model their hiring methods after their
colleagues on the right. And they should also ease up on the criticism of
Republicans the next time Congress looks at quotas.
(Eddie Huff is a member of Project 21 and an insurance agent in Tulsa,
Oklahoma. Huff also serves as the Midwestern coordinator for The Samaritan
Project, a faith-based organization dedicated to racial reconciliation.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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