CBC tours highlight black-white disparities

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are using the August recess and other congressional recesses to tour each other’s districts in an effort to educate voters on the economic and health disparities between blacks and whites.

The brainchild of Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), the tours represent the first time the CBC, in cooperation with the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute, has assembled so many of its members outside of Washington to promote its legislative goals, said CBC spokeswoman Myra Dandridge.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are using the August recess and other congressional recesses to tour each other’s districts in an effort to educate voters on the economic and health disparities between blacks and whites.

The brainchild of Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), the tours represent the first time the CBC, in cooperation with the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute, has assembled so many of its members outside of Washington to promote its legislative goals, said CBC spokeswoman Myra Dandridge.

The effort will also raise the profile of the all-Democratic group at a time when Republicans have reiterated their hopes to woo black voters away from the Democratic Party. Black voters are one of the Democrats’ most loyal constituencies, an enticing target for Republicans, who have tried to appeal to them with conservative social issues, such as faith-based funding for churches and a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

So far, African-Americans have remained largely loyal to Democrats, voting nearly 9-1 for Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. But support for Bush among black voters increased to 11 percent last year, up three percentage points from 2000.

Fifteen CBC members visited Rep. Bennie Thompson’s western Mississippi district yesterday to hold a town-hall meeting at Jackson State University, a historically black college, to discuss healthcare, affordable housing and Social Security.

Later this month, CBC members will descend on the North Carolina district of Rep. Mel Watt, the chairman of the CBC. They are planning additional events with Reps. Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters later this year in California.

“Disparities between African-Americans and white Americans continue to exist in 2005 in every aspect of our lives,” said Thompson, who is hosting the Mississippi bus tour. “These continuing and troubling disparities make it more difficult, and often make it impossible, for African-Americans to reach their full potential.” The tour continues today with stops in Belzoni and Greenwood, Miss.

The CBC participated in a bus tour last year leading up to the elections, but that effort was focused on get-out-the-vote activities in Florida and Ohio, Dandridge said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has also been making the rounds, speaking to 17 predominantly black groups this year, including the National Association of Black Journalists convention Aug. 4 in Atlanta.

One issue that will not be on the CBC’s agenda for the Mississippi bus tour is the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, which expires in 2007. Members of Congress have just begun to consider the issue, although several interest groups and companies have already weighed in.