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2000-01-19

Iowa and New Hampshire: People of Color and Presidential Politics

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This past Monday in Iowa, Democratic presidential contenders Al Gore and Bill Bradley faced off in another debate, their last before that state holds its caucus next Monday. The event was sponsored by the Iowa Brown-Black Presidential Forum. [includes rush transcript]

Hoping to raise questions about the administration’s commitment to people of color, Bradley challenged the Vice President to press Clinton to issue an executive order banning racial profiling. Mr. Gore fired back with a forceful defense of the President.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire this week, people celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday as an official state holiday for the first time. After a campaign led by the African American community and groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, state lawmakers recognized the King holiday last summer. People of color are in very small numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. When the presidential candidates leave these states, they move on to the Southern primaries, where blacks often play a decisive role. And at this point, Gore seems to have a substantial lead among African Americans in states like Florida, Georgia and Texas. Those states, along with New York and California, all cast their votes in the first half of March.

Guests:

  • Rep. Lionel Johnson, member of New Hampshire’s legislature. He was instrumental in the movement to bring the King holiday to New Hampshire.
  • Rep. Wayne Ford, founder of the Iowa Brown-Black Presidential Forum, sponsor of Monday’s debate in Des Moines, Iowa.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

And you are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, joined by my co-host Juan Gonzalez. Juan, you still haven’t gotten your son back, Elian.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

No, but the controversy continues, and I’m sure there will be a resolution. That is, I understand the grandmother now would like to come and claim the son, and it’s a question of whether Janet Reno and the federal government will accept the grandmother over a great aunt as a claimant on Elian Gonzalez.

AMY GOODMAN:

That’s very interesting because regular listeners to Democracy Now! may remember the Cuban American attorney in Washington, Pertierra, who was saying repeatedly that he thought the best way to resolve this was to have both grandmothers come up to the United States, because Juan Miguel Gonzalez, not to be confused with Juan Gonzalez right here — it would just be better, since this is all about PR anyway, that this doesn’t have to do with basic laws, because with the INS, the boy would have been sent right back, that they should just come up to get him.

But right now, we’re going to talk about another issue that actually has taken center stage with presidential candidates. Yes, by the way, Gore has spoken out on the issue, as have Republican candidates, as well. He said he wanted the boy to remain here for a while, clearly concerned about his support in the right-wing Cuban American community in Florida, from which he’s getting more than $300,000.


But this past Monday in Iowa, Democratic presidential contenders Al Gore and Bill Bradley faced off in their last debate between the Iowa — in the Iowa caucus, as well as the New Hampshire primary, the last one that will be held. The event was sponsored by the Iowa Brown-Black Presidential Forum. Hoping to raise questions about the administration’s commitment to people of color, Bradley challenged the Vice President to press Clinton to issue an executive order banning racial profiling. Gore fired back with a forceful defense of the President, saying that he has not only talked the talk, but walked the walk, whereupon he got roundly booed, but it may have been because there were a lot of Bradley supporters in the audience. And there also may have been a lot of questions about what Clinton’s actual record on African Americans has been.


Meanwhile, in New Hampshire this week, people celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday as an official state holiday for the first time. After a campaign led by African American community and groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, state lawmakers recognized the King holiday last summer. I guess they got tired of the Klan coming to New Hampshire to march on the State Capitol every Martin Luther King’s birthday to thank them for not celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday as a state holiday or a federal holiday.

People of color are in very small numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. When the presidential candidates leave these states, they move on to the Southern primaries, where African Americans play a decisive role. And at this point, Gore seems to have a substantial lead among African Americans in states like Florida, Georgia and Texas. Those states, along with New York and California, all cast their votes in the first half of March.


We’re joined on the phone right now by two people. We’re joined by New Hampshire State Representative Lionel Johnson, instrumental in the movement to bring the King holiday to New Hampshire, and Iowa State Representative Wayne Ford, who’s founder of the Iowa Brown-Black Presidential Forum, which was a sponsor of the Democratic contenders’ last debate Monday night in Des Moines, Iowa.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!


REP. LIONEL JOHNSON:

Thank you very much. And good morning to the representative from Iowa.

REP. WAYNE FORD: Good morning.


JUAN GONZALEZ:

Representative Johnson, we’d like to begin with you. First of all, why did it take New Hampshire so long to declare Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday?

REP. LIONEL JOHNSON:

Well, that’s a very difficult question to answer. As being a legislator, one of the things that I have seen and tried to work with, that, as you know, who makes the laws, it would be the people in the legislature. And we have a very heavy popular legislature. We have 400 people in the House of Representatives. And it has been quite tough to get the consensus of those 400 people to say, "Yes, we want Dr. King’s name on the holiday." And I guess everyone knows in the country that things had been said about Dr. King as being a communist. He was against the Vietnam War. And his name would be the only person’s name that is on a holiday, and there are other people, such as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and other people, their name is not directly on a holiday. So, that was one of the difficult things that we had to try to overcome.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And in view of the fact that New Hampshire and Iowa play such pivotal roles in the early periods of the presidential primaries, does it bother you at all that — how few African Americans or Latinos are in either of those states, so that the issues that most affect those communities rarely get discussed?

REP. LIONEL JOHNSON:

Well, then again, you go in back to politics of what really happened. New Hampshire got to be voiced. Iowa have their caucus. Just recently, the last couple of days, you’ve heard more of our, you would say, minorities got involved. Minorities was mentioned in the different arguments or discussions that they had. And I think, as time goes by, with the holiday here, I think, in New Hampshire, we will have more minorities who would look at New Hampshire and say, "This is a place that I would like to live." Before, people was going to different — going away, instead of coming toward New Hampshire.

AMY GOODMAN:

We are also joined on the phone by the founder of the Iowa Brown-Black Presidential Forum, State Representative Wayne Ford. What was that debate like on Monday night, and what about the issue of racial profiling?

REP. WAYNE FORD:

Thank you a lot for being on this show, and I’m very excited to give you an opportunity to hear about the people of Iowa. The first thing I wanted to say before I go into the show about what happened was, is that the first two babies born in the state of Iowa in the year 2000 were Hispanic and black. In 1900, there were two white babies. The bottom line is, as we go up into the new millennium, the color of America is changing. And so, I just want to put that out there so people who listen to this show can recognize that the color of Iowa and New Hampshire are changing.

The racial profiling issue drew a heated discussion. Iowa should feel like it should be involved with racial profiling, since we’re the number one state in the country for the incarceration of black men. Governor Vilsack has appointed me to co-chair a group of people to make sure and find out why Iowa is leading the nation in putting black men in jail. So, we have some deep issues that we have to deal here in the state of Iowa. When people ask the question regarding how is Iowa the right state, we only got a few minorities, I want to put those issues out there. Number one in incarceration of minority men, and also the first babies born in the new millennium are minorities.

The issue of racial profiling, we thought both candidates answered well, but I thought Gore took a slight lead when he said when he would be — once he’s elected, then he will make an executive order, and that will be his first sense of business. So, if I’m looking for any distinction between racial profiling in what the two candidates said, Gore gave us a timetable; Bill Bradley did not.

AMY GOODMAN:

Although Gore answered that question in response to Bradley saying, "Right, would you — would you issue an executive order, if you were president, that banned racial profiling?"

REP. WAYNE FORD:

I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t quite understand you.

AMY GOODMAN:

Gore answered Bradley’s question, challenge, of whether he would issue an executive order, is that right?

REP. WAYNE FORD:

Right, right. Well, but he — what he said, it would be his first order of business, then that was the thing that I thought that many people, when I left, kind of came to me and said, "Well, that’s part of public record." We have problems here in Iowa, and we will hold him accountable. So, these both men are very similar on issues regarding race, but there was a distinction between an executive order, and a situation that had no timetable.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

George Bush, on the Republican side, has — there’s been a lot of coverage about how he’s expected to make, or is planning to make, huge inroads into the Latino vote across the country. What’s your sense of how the Hispanics in Iowa, of which there are growing numbers, especially in the beef — working in the beef industry there, how they are responding to George Bush versus the Democratic candidates?

REP. WAYNE FORD:

Well, we have some labels in Iowa that are receiving national attention. We have a community in Marshalltown, Iowa, which Geraldo Rivera was on about three weeks ago. This community in Iowa is named the number one drug capital in the world when it comes to meth, you know. And so, we are getting national attention regarding, you know, Hispanics. Many communities are saying, "We don’t want immigrants coming into our community. You’re changing the colors of Iowa."

So we were very surprised that, you know, Governor Bush has not made Hispanics an issue in Iowa the way he has made in Texas. He has promised the state of Iowa that he would do commercials in Hispanic. That has not happened yet. He has promised me and many other leaders that he would be involved with a presidential debate on race for the Republican Party. That has never happened. So, to be candid with you, I believe that Hispanics and blacks here in Iowa — this is not Texas — are seeing George Bush for what he’s worth. He’s a good talker, but he’s not putting issues up here in the state of Iowa when it comes to minorities.

AMY GOODMAN:

State Representative Wayne Ford of Iowa, have you made a decision on who you’ll be supporting?

REP. WAYNE FORD:

No, I’m making my decision a little bit later today. And I feel as though that you would know about it, because there plans to be a national press conference here in the city of Des Moines, and my statement should be well-known in about a couple hours.

AMY GOODMAN:

What percentage of people are Latino, black, Native American in Iowa?

REP. WAYNE FORD:

We have about 70,000 Hispanics, Latinos, about 50,000 blacks and other minorities, so altogether I would say roughly 150,000 minorities for the population of Iowa.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mm-hmm, and New Hampshire State Representative Lionel Johnson, in New Hampshire, the percentages?

REP. LIONEL JOHNSON:

Well, the percentage here, we have a million seven, and overall in Iowa, or here in New Hampshire we have less than one percent. Listening to the representative from Iowa, I wish we had that amount here; perhaps we could do it a little better.

And speaking of George Bush, I mean, here, he’s running commercials like about every twenty minutes on some of our major stations, television stations, radio stations. But he’s not talking racist; he’s talking about the monies that the administration have done over the seven years that you have a balanced budget — not a balanced budget, but you have surplus. And he is telling the people here in New Hampshire on how he could use that surplus, that he would not spend it, he would not leave it in Washington, he would give it back to the people in New Hampshire. And he’s telling people in New Hampshire just how much money that he would save in cutting the taxes. But when we listen to Iowa, he doesn’t mention anything concerning race. You have a couple commercials that say what he has done for different Hispanics in Texas, on how he cut the taxes, that type of thing. But when he come to New Hampshire, he only asking for your vote and what he would do for you, but when it comes to race, he’s not using that here.

AMY GOODMAN:

What do you feel are the most important issues in New Hampshire?

REP. LIONEL JOHNSON:

Well, the most important issues are, in New Hampshire right now, would be talking more about the race. I mean, we just had the celebration of Martin Luther King for the first time in the past twenty years. So, I feel if we talk more about balancing the races, that we would have more people. We have a lot of Hispanics that are coming into, especially into Manchester, and Latinos. This is one of the heavily populated areas right now, in Manchester. And when those things happen, with like — with our schools, we have to redo our schools and places to live, and so on, because we was not prepared for the influx of minorities that we have coming into New Hampshire, so I think we’re going to have to take another look at what is going on.

And I heard you asked a question about who are you supporting. I am very proud to say that I’m supporting Gore, because I think this administration have done, to a degree that other administrations have never done, is appointing more minorities to different higher jobs and so on in the country. So I think the minorities, no matter where you are, if you would take a look at this administration, of what they have done in helping minorities, one of the things that I think we should be looking forward to. And I’m very proud to say that I will support them, and I am for them 100 percent, because I think they have done more in the past seven years towards helping minorities, giving them jobs and putting them in higher places than have ever been in, I would say, quite a few years in this country.


AMY GOODMAN:

Well, I want to thank you both very much for joining us. We didn’t ask you, Mr. Johnson, if you’ve come out endorsing someone.

REP. LIONEL JOHNSON:

Well, I’m endorsing Mr. Gore, Vice President Gore.

AMY GOODMAN:

Sorry, sorry, I missed that, OK. Thank you very much.

REP. LIONEL JOHNSON:

Thank you.

REP. WAYNE FORD:

I want to make sure that, Mr. Johnson, I thank you for the good work that you’ve done in the state of New Hampshire.

REP. LIONEL JOHNSON:

Well, thank you very much, and, you know, it’s quite a pleasure. We can’t see each other from the distance, but I was just happy to be on the same line with you. And good luck to you out there, and I hope we will meet somewhere along the line and continue this kind of a dialog.

REP. WAYNE FORD:

I’m sure we will, and thank you very much. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN:

Thank you both very much. Iowa State Representative Wayne Ford and New Hampshire State Representative Lionel Johnson. When we return, we’re going to England and to Spain, and hopefully to Chile. And we’re going to talk about these last minute maneuverings around whether Augusto Pinochet will remain in England, will be sent to Spain, or be sent back to Chile. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Stay with us.

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