Ah, report cards.  If you were a good student in school, you didn’t mind when report cards were issued because you knew you did well in school and had good grades.  Back in the day, your parents had to sign your report card, to indicate to your teachers they saw it and knew how well or how poorly you were doing in school, and so your parents couldn’t come up to the school and clown the teacher.

Lately, it seems that a whole lot of organizations and think tanks have the same idea regarding Congress.  Evaluate and grade the performance of legislators who maintain they are representing the best interests of the districts that elected them.

Sounds good in theory.  In actual practice, you have to ask two pertinent questions:

  1. What effect do you hope to have in issuing grades for legislative performance?
  2. Can a candidate utilize the information in the report card to effectively challenge an incumbent solely on the issue of legislative performance and effective representation?

These were the questions my colleagues and I weighed when we developed and published the CBCMonitor Report Cards in September 2005.  We were not interested in pats on the back or “feel-good” publicity for the members of the Congressional Black Caucus.  We were more concerned that a contingent of them were voting more corporate interests that would be anathema to the districts they purported to represent, and we needed to sound the alarm to their districts.

We haven’t been as successful as we would have liked, but our report card effectively got the attention of the Black Caucus, especially when we pointed out their own mission statement and demonstrated how far off track they were through the first report card. The effect of our work resulted in four members, including former Rep. Al Wynn, being challenged for their Congressional seats.  Representative Donna Edwards sits in Wynn’s former seat today, as a result of her utilizing the CBCMonitor’s Report Card and effectively challenging his votes during campaign debates.

We at JJP were invited to review and comment on the Legislative Report Card prepared by the NAACP.  In so doing, we couldn’t help but perform a comparative analysis between the previous report cards prepared by CBCMonitor and the one they prepared.

First, the good:  it is a comprehensive reporting of legislative performance in both the House of Representatives, and the United States Senate regarding Civil Rights Issues.

To the NAACP’S credit, they call their Report Card a Legislative Report card specific to civil rights issues.  But it is presented as a full bodied Legislative Performance evaluation, which can be misleading because marginal performers within the Congressional Black Caucus can skate on Civil Rights issues, while being shielded from publication that their voting records are largely in favor of corporate interests.

Case in point – the very first report card CBCMonitor published in September 2005.  Wanna-be Senate Candidate and Carpet bagger Harold Ford, Jr., was rated “Worst Congress Person Ever” – and this as the Congressional Representative from Memphis, Tennessee, his hometown.  But the NAACP consistently Aced Harold because he voted right on Civil Rights issues, and then, there were not that many.

Additionally, those receiving failing grades from the NAACP could possibly care less about their legislative votes on civil rights issues, because their districts are not largely affected by those issues. You can bet money that John Ensign, Saxby Chambliss, or any Representative or Senator from Montana, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, – any state or district with less than 5% diverse population, is not losing sleep over their failing grades from the NAACP.

That’s the problem with doing Legislative Report Cards – what do you expect to get out of the exercise?  Do you plan to sound alarms to the congress members to stop treating their districts like four-year olds who don’t know any better?  Do you want them to know that they are being WATCHED and there will be CONSEQUENCES or REPERCUSSIONS for voting on foul legislation?

A few years ago, Black Enterprise magazine decided they would evaluate the performance of then-President George W. Bush.  The problem with that is three of their evaluation “panel” had performance problems of their own within the Congressional Black Caucus:

We were particularly appalled to find BE had chosen three black lawmakers to grade Bush who had themselves gotten abysmal marks in the CBC Monitor Report Card:

Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL)            F

Rep. David Scott (D-GA)           F

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD)         F
All three earned the distinction, “Derelicts of the Congressional Black Caucus.” Black Enterprise really knows how to pick ‘em.

Rep. Wynn was the most lackadaisical grader of all, offering an opinion on Bush in only one of five categories of performance: small business (Bush got a D).

We must ask the question: Why was Wynn even there?(emphasis mine)

We commend the NAACP on their work in attempting to hold the members of both Houses of Congress accountable, but the real effect is in the way the members vote – not just on Civil Rights Legislation, but ALL LEGISLATION THAT AFFECTS EVERY AMERICAN.  Publicly holding Members of Congress accountable for their votes is the methodology of effecting a change in ensuring the member represents the best interests of their districts and not their own self-aggrandizement.

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