Rebel With a Cause

Paul Goldman

Wilder Aide Questions Bush/Warner Accord
Education Secretary under Wilder says: "Some of us absolutely disagree" with a Bush/Warner Accord on the presence of racial discrimination in Virginia.

What follows is not a political story you have yet read in the "mainstream media." But I ask you: Where did you first read the column predicting that Gov. Mark R. Warner and the state senate Democrats would reverse course and kill repeal of the Estate Tax... that Warner would increase the compensation given to innocent prisoner Marvin Anderson... that Warner would have to get his Virginia Tech board appointees to help reverse the Kilgore-inspired ruling on affirmative action or face a Democratic firestorm... and that the General Assembly was so bloated that guys like Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, who have been leading the expansion of state-paid legislative largesse would have to call a halt [Senators have now agreed to a $3,000 cut this year]?

So, let's keep going rolling like the First Marine Division: You are now gonna read it first here, the story of the Bush/Warner deal on racial discrimination, a potentially huge political story that has Jim Dyke, the former Education Secretary under Governor L. Douglas Wilder, saying publicly what yours truly started saying last week in my column.           
Jim has been talked about as a possible candidate for Lieutenant Governor. But I don't read his speaking out against the Bush/Warner deal -- as to why it is best seen as a Bush/Warner deal, not a Bush/Gilmore deal, read further -- as part of any trial balloon for a 2005 political run. Rather, I believe he has finally broken his public silence for one simple reason: He is baffled how advisors to a Democratic governor could have talked Warner into taking a deal that had originally been negotiated by former Governor Jim Gilmore to pander to a important and well-financed wing in the Republican Party.

I understand Jim's feelings. As an African-American, Jim knows how hard folks have had to work to begin to level the playing field. He has heard Gov. Warner tell people how he ran Wilder's campaign and helped draft his strategy for overcoming the race card being played by the Republican opposition.

So naturally, Jim never thought a transparent political deal on racial discrimination would be approved by the Warner education people.

But it has.

So, over the weekend, Jim said that "[s]ome of us absolutely disagree" with the Accord reducing the power of the state and the federal government to remedy and prevent racial discrimination in the Commonwealth as it applies to our educational system.

As readers of my column last week know, I tried to warn Secretary of Education Belle Wheelan to expect the Accord to lead to a big controversy.

It didn't require a crystal ball to realize Robb/Baliles/Wilder officials like Dyke would have trouble understanding how anyone could agree to a deal based on a "finding" by the Bush administration that Virginia's higher educational system "had a clean bill of health on the issue of equal opportunity," as one key architect put it.

Why? Because they know it isn't true. Just recently, in commenting on a recent state government report, the Daily Press wrote that "[n]o progress has been made since 1992 in the percentage of students at four-year colleges who are black."

This leads to the self-evident question: If state and federal officials saw the Robb/Baliles/Wilder policies as necessary to address the lingering effects of past discrimination, and no real progress has been made in the last 10 years, then, logically, how can state and federal officials now say these policies have done their job and are no longer needed?

Answer: They can't, as the state's Council on Higher Education and just about every other knowledgeable education advisor would agree. Former governors Robb, Baliles and Wilder know the "finding" wasn't true. So did members of the 2001 Democratic ticket. And so do the political advisors to Gov. Warner.

We have made a lot of progress, and this is not the 1960s or 1970s. But a "clean bill of health on the issue of equal opportunity?" I wish it were true. But it isn't by any responsible standard.    

More importantly, the Governor's political advisors know a bigger secret: This whole deal, this Bush/Warner Accord is rooted not in education policy but rather in pure, partisan, Republican politics.

The truth is that modern-day Republicans have never wanted to give the federal government the power to insist that Virginia take certain actions to combat discrimination.

With the election of President Bush, Gilmore saw his chance to do what every Republican Governor has wanted to do: get the federal government out of the business of telling Virginia what it had to do to correct past discrimination. This federal power over the state has been a bone in the throat of powerful elements in the Republican Party.  

By the stroke of a pen, the Accord takes away not just some of the power of the state of Virginia, but more politically important, it takes away certain of the legal authority of the federal government to make Virginia combat discrimination under any future Governor.

Professors Sabato and Holsworth call it the battle between "state's rights" vs. federal rights in Southern politics. That is useful but wholly satisfactory shorthand.

Nonetheless, it does help make the basic political point.

As the Richmond Times Dispatch said, the Gilmore Administration believed the deal cooked up with the President meant "the state will have no further desegregation obligations to the federal government" once all the deal provisions are implemented.

Thus, this Accord was not about what was best for Virginians in need of protecting its citizens from discrimination: it was a political decision based on ideology, much as these same forces had never wanted the Voting Rights Act to provide remedies for proven racial discrimination.

So Mr. Dyke is saying in his own way: Why is the Warner administration risking its credibility for what was never anything more than a Bush/Gilmore political deal to score points with a narrow element in the GOP?

The reasons for now calling it a Bush/Warner deal, and not a Gilmore/Bush are deal, are based on the slowly emerging facts in the matter. The 14-page Accord document was signed during the waning days of Mr. Gilmore's Administration as he was leaving to become President Bush's new chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Normally, such an important decision on this type of issue would be left by a lame-duck governor for the newly elected governor. But this was a Republican political deal, and they naturally figured a Democrat, particularly one elected with 93 percent of the African-American vote, would not sign it.

But would he be willing to take the political heat for nixing the deal once in office, as it would surely lead to an effort in the General Assembly to have it reinstated?

This was a shrewd analysis on their part. The truth is the Gilmore/Bush deal is very popular in the whole of the Virginia electorate. Anything that can be painted as "keeping Uncle Sugar out of our state's business" has always been popular in the Old Dominion. So Warner surely knew that getting into a big fight with Gilmore/Bush on their political deal would be a loser with the general public. Truth is, the Dyke position is the politically unpopular one, and any honest commentator has to point that out.

Clearly, Warner had to choose sides. The Accord itself was binding on Virginia only if the governor and the General Assembly fulfilled what lawyers call "conditions subsequent" to a contract, meaning that the Accord was premised on Virginia taking certain actions starting in 2002 and ending in 2005, the last year of Warner's term.

THIS IS THE KEY: The Accord, once you read the document and work through it, has the state and federal government agreeing to give up legal authority to protect Virginians against discrimination IN EXCHANGE for Virginia agreeing to provide money to Norfolk State University and Virginia State University and take other actions the state had previously said it would do, as one member of the General Assembly confirmed to me.

Page 14 of the Accord says this:

"Implementation by Virginia of the commitments undertaken herein... will fully discharge Virginia's obligation to eliminate any vestiges of past discrimination in its system of education."

On page 8 of the Accord, in the Section entitled Virginia's Commitments, the document reads:

"Subsequent to the execution of the Accord by the parties, the Governor will advocate the legislature's adoption of a budget in conformance with this Accord."

These paragraphs, while perhaps Greek to you as a non-lawyer, explain why Gov. Warner wanted the General Assembly to pass a resolution endorsing the Accord, which it did in February, 2002.

In effect, he was getting the legislators to provide the political cover for the Bush/Warner deal.

Why? Simple: The money was due NSU and VSU long before there was any Bush/Warner or Bush/Gilmore accord as it was owed to remedy prior discrimination whether there was an accord or not.
The state owed the money: it didn't need any transparent political deal to make it happen.

But by making it part of the Accord, the politics gave the Republicans the ability to claim a big win, gave the Legislative Black Caucus the ability to claim a big win, thereby cutting off any criticism of Warner agreeing to the deal.

It might have been a perfect political play but for the decision by Attorney General Kilgore to use the Accord as the basis for his telling Virginia Tech to scrap all its racial preferences.

This brought the Accord to the attention of guys like me, who had never read it before. Once I read it and wrote about it, then the Jim Dykes of the world realized people would want to know what he had been advising Democrats to do as he once served on the state commission that monitored the state's efforts to satisfy federal demands regarding the effects of past discrimination.

Governors Robb, Baliles and Wilder never would have signed this accord, much less implemented it. I know of no Educational Secretary in any Democratic Administration that would have signed nor implemented Accord. The Clinton Administration would not agree to it.

In his immortal protest song against racial discrimination, Bob Dylan, then billed as the "Rebel With a Cause" by Columbia Records wrote these words:

"How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?"

As a commentator, I have to call it like I see it.

The Accord is pure politics, and the decision to go with it, as opposed to scrapping it, was pure politics.

The Accord was approved without a dissenting Democratic or Republican vote in 2002. The measure approving the Accord was House Joint Resolution 169. The sponsor was Del. Jerrauld Jones, now a major official in the Warner Administration.

He was the Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Mr. Gilmore has said he was very proud of having been able to get the next Governor to implement the deal to free Virginia from the yoke of federal intrusion.

I rest my case.

-- April 7, 2003


(c) Copyright. All rights reserved. Paul Goldman. 2003.


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Paul Goldman, the Rebel With a Cause, was chief political strategist for the past two winning Democratic governors in Virginia and was credited with leading a "revolution in American politics" by The New York Times for his role in breaking America's 300-year-old color barrier in national politics.


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