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Bush to African American Voters: “Just Don’t Focus on Florida, I’ll Talk to the Governor Down There to Make Sure it Works”

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We hear President Bush being questioned by journalists of color at the UNITY conference in Washington DC and we speak with Chicago Defender columnist Roland Martin, one of the journalists who questioned Bush. [includes rush transcript]

The Unity conference wrapped up this weekend in Washington DC. It was the largest conference of journalists in US history. The event was organized by the four journalists of color organizations: the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian-American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association. More than 7,500 journalists participated in the convention. At the conference, Unity released the results of a survey it conducted with the University of Maryland”s Philip Merrill College of Journalism that shows that only one in 10 writers, editors and bureau chiefs in the Washington daily newspaper press corps are journalists of color.

While journalists of color are rarely in a position to question president Bush at his rare press conferences, a handful of journalists had a chance to question him on Friday when the president addressed the Unity conference. Each organization at the conference selected one journalist to question Bush. We begin with Roland Martin, a columnist for the Chicago Defender newspaper.

  • * Roland Martin*, a columnist for The Chicago Defender. He was one of the journalists selected by the Unity Conference to question President Bush. We hear him questioning Bush at the conference and speak with him about the conference.

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

ROLAND MARTIN: Mr. President, Roland Martin.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Tell them what it’s about.

ROLAND MARTIN: Nationally syndicated columnist with the Trade Syndicate and the trade consultant for The Chicago Defender, the nation’s only daily black newspaper and representing the National Association of Black Journalists, the world’s largest minority media organization. And the inside joke, a 1991 graduate of Texas A & M University. Mr. President before I ask the question, I hope that you will give our government, Rick Perry a call, I know you spend a lot of time in D.C, Mr. President. But they’re trying to cap the top ten percent in Texas. That may have an impact.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I appreciate you recognizing that it’s working in the first place.

ROLAND MARTIN: The percentage of white students increased as well.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Sometimes they talk, sometimes they deliver.

ROLAND MARTIN: I understand. That’s okay. I’m working with the president on that. Also hope that you would take a second round of questions from Texan to Texan so we can ask a second question. If would you do me that favor.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I just — just ask your two questions.

ROLAND MARTIN: Mr. President, you remarked in your remarks you said that 8 million people in Afghanistan registered to vote, and as you said, exercised their God-given right to vote.


ROLAND MARTIN: That may be a right from God, but it’s not guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. In 2000, an estimated 2 million people, half African American had their votes discounted from Florida and Cook County, Illinois, to other cities. Some on it— That cuts into other questions. Are you going to order Attorney General John Ashcroft to send federal election monitors to Florida and other southern states and in this age of new constitutional amendments, will you endorse a constitutional amendment guaranteeing every American the right to vote in federal elections?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes. First of all, look, I can understand why African Americans in particular — you know, are worried about being able to vote since the vote had been denied for so long in the south in particular. I understand that. This administration wants everybody to vote. Now, I — best thing we did was to pass the Helping America Vote Act with over — I think it’s $3 billion of help to states and local governments to make sure that the voting process is fair. I — you know, it’s not just the south. By the way, the voting process needs help all over the country to make sure that everybody’s vote counts and everybody’s vote matters. I understand that. That’s why I was happy to work with the congress to achieve this important piece of legislation. Just don’t focus on Florida. I have to talk to the governor down there to make sure it works. But it’s the whole country that needs voter registration files need to be updated. The machines need to work. And that’s why there’s $3 billion in the budget to help, Roland. Obviously, everybody ought to have a vote. What was your other question?

ROLAND MARTIN: Should we put it — guarantee it in the constitution.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I’ll consider it. I’ll consider it. What’s your second question? R You said it should be guaranteed in Iraq, why not America?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, it’s not guaranteed in Iraq. People have to show up to vote in the first place. The thing about democracy is people need to step up and decide to participate in the first place. There’s no guarantees people are going to vote. They should be allowed to vote, but the problem we have in our society is too many people choose not to vote. We have a duty in the political process, and you have a duty as journalists to encourage people to register to vote, to do their duty. I’m not saying that — I’m saying that people are choosing. It’s not guaranteed they’re going to. That’s part of the problem that we have in America. Not enough people do vote. You have a duty on your radio stations on your TV stations, to encourage people to register to vote. I have a duty to call them out to vote. Of course, I’m going to try to call them out to vote for me.

AMY GOODMAN: Roland Martin questioning President Bush at the UNITY Conference. He’s with The Chicago Defender. He also got to ask the last question of the president.

ROLAND MARTIN: Mr. President, you said, quote, “Quotas —,” you said, quote “Quotas are an unfair system for all,” unquote, with regards to your opposition to affirmative action.

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, no, no. Whoa, whoa, whoa. With regard to my opposition to quota systems. ROLAND MARTIN: To quotas. Okay. But I have never heard you speak against legacy. Now, the President of Texas A & M, Robert Gates, said he would not use race in admissions. He later said that he would not use legacy. If you say it’s a matter of merit, and not race, shouldn’t colleges also get rid of legacy? Because that’s not based upon merit, that’s based upon if my daddy or my granddaddy went to my college.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. I thought you were referring to my legacy.

ROLAND MARTIN: That’s why I allowed you to go ahead to bring it out.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. Yeah. Well, in my case, I had to knock on a lot of doors to follow the old man’s footsteps. No, look, if what you are saying is there are going to be special treatment for people, in other words, we’re going to have a special exception for certain people in a system that’s supposed to be fair, i agree. I don’t think there ought to be.

ROLAND MARTIN: So, the colleges should get rid of legacy.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I think so, yeah. It should be based upon merit and also based upon — I think colleges need to work hard for diversity. Don’t get me wrong.

ROLAND MARTIN: Mmm hmm. BUSH: You said against affirmative action is what you said up. You put words in my mouth. What I am for is diversity.

ROLAND MARTIN: I read the speech.

PRESIDENT BUSH: What speech?

ROLAND MARTIN: In terms when you came out against the Michigan affirmative action policy.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I said I was against quotas.

ROLAND MARTIN: You support Affirmative Action —

PRESIDENT BUSH: I support colleges affirmatively taking action to get more minorities in their schools.

ROLAND MARTIN: That’s a long headline, Mr. President. BUSH: I support diversity. I don’t support quotas. I think quotas are wrong. I think quotas are wrong for people. So do a lot of people.

ROLAND MARTIN: Just to be clear, you believe that colleges should not use legacy?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think that colleges ought to use merit in order for people to get in and they ought to use a merit system like the one I put out.

ROLAND MARTIN: Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you all. Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush being questioned by Roland Martin of The Chicago Defender. He joins us now on the telephone from Chicago. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

ROLAND MARTIN: Thank you, Amy. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: Are you satisfied with the president’s answers?

ROLAND MARTIN: Can you say that again, I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you satisfied with the president’s answers?

ROLAND MARTIN: Somewhat. Obviously, he said that he would consider the constitutional amendment. He certainly answered the legacy question. I think on those two, we got as much one could expect from the President on a spot moment. I think the critical thing is that you have to continue to press and press and press and press to insure that the answers are — the questions are in indeed answered. I thought that was the beauty of the format. We were not limited to ask a question and sit back and let him expand on the answer.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the background of legacy and President Bush’s own record.

ROLAND MARTIN: Legacy is simply individuals who are admitted to colleges and universities based upon the fact that they are fathers or grandfathers or grandmothers and mothers went to a particular university. President Bush was an admitted C student in high school who could not get to the University of Texas, yet because his grandfather was Senator Prescott Bush, his father was George Bush, he had an opportunity to be admitted to Yale University and although that may be a Texas aggie and U.T. is our biggest rivals, I think Yale have a little bit more stringent policy than the University of Texas to get into school. So, the President knew exactly where I was going and he came out and said it, of course. The White House is now trying to spin it by saying that he was trying to follow in his father’s footsteps in the White House. But I think an admitted high school student with a C did not have any thoughts of the presidency when his dad was also trying to get just into the U.S. House of Representatives. As a result across this country at Harvard and Yale and Princeton, at University of Texas, at Texas A & M and major institutions across this country individuals are admitted to college who frankly don’t have the grades to get into school. So what has always angered me, and I wrote about this in USA Today last year after he made the announcement opposing the Michigan Affirmative Action policy, my problem is individuals across the country, they sit here and they criticize affirmative action, they criticize the use of race in college admissions. Yet they don’t say single thing about legacy. You cannot say on one hand, I oppose admissions to universities if you include race, but then on the other hand, I support legacy. Like what Colin Powell told the Republicans at their convention in 2000: “How can you sit here and oppose welfare to poor people yet you say nothing about corporate welfare?” That’s the same kind of situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Roland Martin, I want to thank you for being with us, but you must say that President Bush will give hope to C students given that was his average at Yale and he ended up getting into Harvard Business School.

ROLAND MARTIN: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you. Roland Martin of The Chicago Defender questioning President Bush on Friday in Washington D.C.

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