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U.S. civil rights panel to criticize Bush plan

The decision is "about as surprising as the sunrise,'' says an attorney representing the NAACP.

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights are at odds over the governor's plan to overhaul affirmative action.

The commission, an eight-member group appointed by Congress and the president, plans to issue a statement today saying One Florida lacks the "ingredients" to increase diversity, according to a commission member.

Cruz Reynoso, a UCLA law professor who is vice chairman of the commission, said the statement also will consider developments in California and Texas, states where many race-based affirmative action policies have been dismantled.

Late Wednesday, Bush wrote to the commission chair, University of Pennsylvania professor Mary Frances Berry: "I am deeply troubled that the commission would take a formal, official position against my initiative without even seeking to contact any member of my administration. "It is hard to discern a non-political reason for such a hasty rush to judgment, or for the commission to attack a positive plan like One Florida." The governor's letter addressed a story in Wednesday's Washington Times that said the commission would poll its members today to gauge support of the 10-page statement, which also reportedly criticizes Bush's school voucher plan.

The statement says, "Florida should keep affirmative action unless forced to abandon it," according to the Washington Times story. But it is clear that even the commission is divided on One Florida.

The newspaper identified a Republican commission member, Russell Redenbaugh, as saying the poll vote is a political move "being used in this instance to keep any discussion or dissent off the public record."

Cruz said Wednesday the statement is still being revised and that the commission is likely to make an announcement today.

The commission was established in 1957 as "a national clearinghouse for information in respect to discrimination or denial of equal protection of the laws." It lacks enforcement power but can hold hearings, issue subpoenas and refer cases to investigating agencies.

Officials at the commission, based in Washington, D.C., also could not be reached.

The commission's criticism of One Florida is "about as surprising as the sunrise," said John D.C. Newton II, an attorney representing the NAACP. "Frances Berry is on record as saying they were concerned about it."

Berry could not be reached for comment.

State Sen. Kendrick Meek, a Miami Democrat who has been One Florida's sharpest critic, said late Wednesday he had not heard about the commission vote.

Meek said, "The governor started hasty decisions" when he launched One Florida in November. "Everyone else has to react in a hasty manner. He is the originator of haste."

The Washington Times story says the commission concluded that policies such as the 20 percent plan in One Florida are "effective public relations strategy" that are "probably worse" than traditional affirmative action policies.

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