The second biannual Congressional Black Caucus Monitor
Report Card shows that a handful of "derelicts" in the
CBC remain far outside of the African American political consensus
- worthless to the Black constituents that voted them into office.
Yet 81 percent of the 42 African American House
members (34) scored 80 percent or higher on the watchdog group's
index of "bright line" issues, evidence that the corporate-financed
rot that became dramatically manifest in 2005 has not infected
most of a caucus that has long claimed to be "the conscience
of the congress."
"CBC Monitor is a challenge both to the CBC
themselves but also Black America to get more active in making
the American political system function in its benefit," said
Jared Ball, a founder of the CBC Monitor. "Our report cards
are just that: scheduled, timely assessments meant to criticize
and reward performance."
CBC Report Card Chart
‘Somebody's watching you…'
At the top of the Honor Society, with perfect scores
in both the first and second halves of the 109th Congress, were:
John Conyers (MI), Barbara Lee (CA), John Lewis (GA), Cynthia
McKinney (GA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Charles Rangel (NY),
Robert Scott (VA), and Maxine Waters (CA). They are the most
brightly shining lights of progressivism in the CBC.
Fourteen other members registered an "A"
on the CBC Monitor scale, with scores of 90 to 95: Donna Christian-Christensen
(VI), Chaka Fattah (PA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Major Owens
(NY), Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (OH), Diane Watson (CA), Melvin Watt
(NC), Emanuel Cleaver (MO), Al Green (TX), Julia Carson (IN),
William "Lacy" Clay (MO), James Clyburn (SC), and Carolyn
However, despite their 95% combined Spring-Fall
scores, Reps. Cleaver and Green were denied Honor Society status
because of their votes for the GOP's infamous Bankruptcy bill,
in the Spring of 2005 - a cardinal sin, by the CBC Monitor's reckoning
(and BC's, too).
Grouped like dregs at the bottom of the Caucus barrel
are five members whose conduct reveals them as tools for parties
outside the Black community: Albert Wynn (MD) 55%, Artur Davis
(AL) 40%, David Scott (GA) 35%, Sanford Bishop (GA) 32.5%, and
Harold Ford Jr. (TN) 32.5. Ford was also the lowest rated congressperson
in the CBC Monitor's September, 2005 Report Card (at 5%). However,
perhaps looking over his shoulder at his base as he runs for the
U.S. Senate this year, Ford improved his Fall score by 55 points
over his abysmal Spring tally. But he remains a "Derelict"
of the worst order.
All five "Derelicts" are members of the
Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and/or Blue Dog Democrats.
The hapless three members rated "Underachievers"
by the CBC Monitor, are: G.K. Butterfield (NC) 75% "C",
William Jefferson (LA) 70% "C", and Gregory Meeks (NY)
65% "D." Meeks and Jefferson climbed out of their earlier
"Derelict" status in the second half of the session,
but Butterfield managed to slime his way downward from a previous
"A" - the worst showing of any newcomer to the CBC.
(U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) was not included
in the second CBC Monitor Report Card, because no corresponding
"bright line" issues came up in his chamber of Congress
in the latter part of the year. He retains his earlier grade
of "C" - an "Underachiever.")
‘Every step you take, every move you make…'
"Many if not most of the Caucus never expected
a group of African Americans to call them on their own performances,"
said the CBC Monitor's Leutisha Stills. Among those who might
be most surprised by their "B" scores (80-89%) may be
5 of the 12 congresspersons who lost points for voting in favor
of a bill that would bar non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
from using public housing project offices for voter registration
The 39 CBC members who cast votes on the Federal
Housing Reform Act split, 27 to 12, over a provision prohibiting
participation by non-profit housing agencies in voter registration
and other non-partisan electoral activities. Unlike most points
of contention in the Caucus, support for this provision of an
otherwise popular bill cut across ideological lines. All three
members of the usually progressive Black Chicago delegation (Danny
Davis, Bobby Rush, and Jesse Jackson Jr.) voted to keep non-profit
voter registration activists out of public housing project offices,
as did Bennie Thompson (MS), Elijah Cummings (MD), Gwen Moore
(WI), Corrine Brown (FL), the underachieving William Jefferson
(LA) and G.K. Butterfield (NC), and derelicts Artur Davis (AL),
Albert Wynn (MD), and Harold Ford Jr. Sanford Bishop (GA), a
derelict, failed to vote, which the CBC Monitor counted as amounting
to a vote in favor of the successful GOP-led provision.
It seems apparent that some CBC members' decisions
on public housing voter registration activity were based on local
exigencies - who was organizing against whom - in their districts.
However, the CBC Monitor explained to The Black Commentator that
it considers access to the vote a "bright line" item,
and the more the better. It should also be noted that none of
the "Honor Society" CBC members voted to exclude NGOs
from public housing offices. (At the same time, a number of B-rated
legislators would have been ranked among the "Honor Society"
had they voted differently on the public housing measure.)
Nevertheless, the CBC Monitor is open to argument
from congresspersons who believe they have gotten a raw deal,
or that the motivation for their vote was misunderstood.
"Where furthering our issues in congress is
challenging for the Caucus, we hope that our work will encourage
our representatives to express any challenges being faced to their
constituents, to dialogue and garner grassroots support there
in order to raise their voices in Congress," said Suzette
Gardner, a CBC Monitor founder. "Representing our interest
in Congress is not a one-man/woman show and that is the point
of our efforts here at CBC Monitor."
mid-January the CBC Monitor sent e-mails to each member of the
Caucus, their legislative aides and communications directors,
asking that they inform the Monitor of any CBC legislative initiatives
that were bottled up in Republican-controlled committees. The
CBC Monitor is well aware that an array of bills never see the
light of day, flushed down the GOP toilet. But the CBC Monitor
seeks to give credit to those congresspersons who submit legislation,
year after year, in the face of unremitting racist and rightwing
To date, only U.S. Virgin Islands Delegate Donna
Christian-Christiansen (Honor Society, "A") has responded
in detail to CBC Monitor's queries about bills their offices were
attempting to push through committee.
Eyeballing Our Representatives
The CBC Monitor was created in the wake of a disastrous
performance by more than a third of the Congressional Black Caucus
in the first half of 2005. In what less than a decade ago would
have been unthinkable, 15 members - 37 percent of the Caucus -
voted for one or more GOP bills on Bankruptcy, the Estate Tax,
and Energy, with vastly harmful effects on the Black community.
As BC wrote in our April
28, 2005 Cover Story:
The CBC Monitor is a mechanism to identify and isolate
the worst-of-the-worst - the "Derelicts" of the Caucus
- and to encourage "our better angels" on the majority,
progressive side of the Caucus to keep-on-keepin'-on, despite
corporate blandishments. The rot in the CBC is a direct result
of an offensive by the Right - which became dramatically evident
in the 2002 election cycle - to subvert Black Democratic politics
from within in an attempt to create out of whole cloth a "New
Black Leadership." This offensive is a bi-partisan affair,
with the corporate-vetted Democratic Leadership Council in the
vanguard. The Congressional Black Caucus has been infested by
the DLC (that's where the "Derelicts" come from) making
it impossible for the Caucus to operate in its traditional manner
- through consensus. Yet the progressive majority of the Caucus
has so far failed to come to grips with this treacherous phenomenon.
Thus, the CBC cannot take positions as a body on issues
in which the DLC holds an effective veto power. Black politics
at the national legislative level has been, in a critical sense,
It required such a shock to motivate the founders
of the watchdog CBC Monitor to demand accountability from each
Black member of Congress - something that, in hindsight, should
have been done long ago, and must be replicated at every level
The CBC Monitor's choice of "bright line"
issues is based on the historical Black Consensus in favor of
social justice, democratic rights, human equality, and peace.
None should fear such standards. But there is clearly anxiety
over this newfound scrutiny among some in the Black Caucus.
an incident at the September Congressional Black Caucus Weekend
activities, in Washington, when the first CBC Monitor Report Card
Not only the Caucus, but the Black polity at-large
must get used to a new era, when outside forces have thoroughly
infiltrated our institutions, requiring constant vigilance by
community watchdogs. Congressman Watt is, based on his record
("A"), one of the good guys, but the times dictate that
no Black institution be immune to scrutiny.
"Some of our critics have said that by publishing
these report cards we are ignoring the minority status of the
CBC in Congress and their limited power," said the CBC Monitor's
Suzette Gardner. "I'd like to use this opportunity to let
those critics know that we are aware of the status of the CBC
The CBC irritated some of the Caucus by refusing
to base its ratings solely on traditional "civil rights"
legislation. The September Report Card graded lawmakers on nine
bills: Iraq War Authorization; Bankruptcy Reform bill; CAFTA;
Gang Deterrence bill; Watt Amendment to the Federal Budget; Class
action (Tort Reform) legislation; Estate Tax repeal Legislation;
REAL ID Act (voting rights); and the Energy bill/Capps Amendment.
The current Report Card rates CBC performance based
on five pieces of legislation: Rep. Murtha's motion prohibiting
torture; Federal Housing Reform Act; a second Energy bill; Patriot
Act; and a bill to protect gun manufacturers, dealers and distributors
from legal liability.
The CBC Monitor exists because this juncture in
history demands it. Never before has a Black organization
graded Black politicians on their service to the Black polity,
on the basis of the Black Political Consensus, rather than on
some "curve" that includes the legislative records of
far-right Arizona Republicans - a construct that would allow even
the most "Derelict" Black politicians to shine by comparison.
The CBC Monitor grades Black politicians on a Black political
scale, on issues that affect the masses of Black people - as it
The popular response has been overwhelmingly positive.
"After issuing our first
Report Card" in September, Suzette Gardner told BC,
"we were greatly encouraged by the response. I'd say about
90 percent of readers were like, ‘right on, its about time!'"
Jared Ball, a PhD in journalism who teaches at the
University of Maryland, puts it this way: