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JIM LEHRER: Now, two takes on the Democratic presidential nomination race. First, a campaign snapshot of yesterday’s Black and Brown Forum in Des Moines, where minority concerns were a major focus. Eight of the candidates participated in the broadcast on MSNBC.
SPOKESMAN: What is the biggest challenge in your view that’s facing America’s minority communities right now?
HOWARD DEAN: I think the biggest challenge is to help white audiences understand the plight of minority audiences, minority populations when it comes to race. There was a Wall Street Journal study that showed that if you are white with a drug conviction you have a better chance of being called back for a second job interview than if you’re African American or Latino with a clean record.
As long as that happens, we have to talk to the folks in this country who do the hiring, because there are unconscious biases because we tend to hire people like ourselves, that’s how institutional racism develops.
We can do better than this, but it requires political leaders to talk not just to African American and Latino audiences but to wide audiences about the role of race in America and what we can do about it, not just in terms of civil rights, but in terms of overcoming the unconscious bias that every single American has to hiring people like themselves.
AL SHARPTON: I direct this to Governor Dean. You keep talking about race. In the state of Vermont, when you were governor, ’97 ’99, 2001, not one black or brown held a senior policy position. Not one.
You yourself said we must do something about it. Nothing was done.
Can you explain, since now you want to convene everyone to talk about race, it seems as though you’ve discovered blacks and browns during this campaign, how you can explain not one black or brown working for your administration as governor?
HOWARD DEAN: Actually, I beg to differ with your statistics there.
AL SHARPTON: This is according to your paper, the Vermont Associated Press and the Center for Women in Government.
HOWARD DEAN: Perhaps you ought not to believe everything in the press.
AL SHARPTON: So you’re saying this is not correct?
HOWARD DEAN: We do have African American and Latino workers in state government.
AL SHARPTON: I said under your administration, do you have a senior member of your cabinet that was black or brown?
HOWARD DEAN: We had a senior member of my staff.
AL SHARPTON: Of your cabinet.
HOWARD DEAN: No, we did not.
AL SHARPTON: OK. I don’t think that that answers the question. I think if you’re, if you want to lecture people on race, you ought to have the background and track record in order to do that.
SPOKESMAN: Senator Edwards, you’d like to weigh in with a 30-second response.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: This is not just about talk, this is about doing something. I grew up with this, I’ve lived with it my entire life. The things I have seen growing up, segregation, discrimination, are part of everything I am today.
This is not conversation. This is about creating real equality. We still live in two Americas, and we should be willing to tell the American people that.
We have two economies, we have two tax systems, we have two public school systems, one for those who live in affluent communities, and one for those who don’t.
SPOKESMAN: Senator Kerry, does anyone on this stage have the moral high ground on the issue of race relations in this country?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: The problem is not just of black and brown, it’s one of poor people, it’s one of power in America.
The powerful, the friends of George Bush, the people who did the Medicare bill, the people who did the energy bill with $50 billion worth of oil and gas subsidies have tilted the playing field against everybody, and the new common cause in America is for us to go out to the Latino community, the African American community, the poor white community, to the disenfranchised people of America who are working harder all across the board and getting less for it while the boardroom folks walk away with the prize. And we need –
SPOKESPERSON: I’d like to get a rebuttal from Representative Gephardt real quick.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: I just wanted to say that on this question of access to capital, I think this is the key question in helping minorities be able to have the same opportunity as everyone else.
One of my proposals that I’m very interested in is changing the percentage of federal contracts that go to minority contracts from 5 to 10 percent. This would do more to get capital into minority contractors and give people the opportunity they need.
We also had a new markets initiative from Bill Clinton, and it’s gone by the way side with this administration. It needs to be renewed and funded so that minorities in this country can get access to capital so they can start small business.
SPOKESMAN: I want to move quickly, if I can, to Ambassador Moseley Braun.
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: Reverend Sharpton, the fact of the matter is you can always blow up a racial debate and make people mad at each other, but I think it’s time for us to talk about what are you going to do to bring people together, because this country cannot afford a racial screaming match. We have to come together, we have to come together as one nation to get past these problems.
AL SHARPTON: For me not to hold him accountable to what he raised is insulting to people. I’ve fought all my life for civil rights, I have stood up, I’ve made racial profiling, police brutality, racial discrimination of the private sector priorities, just access to capital, bringing capital in without fighting discrimination and our ability to achieve jobs will not solve this. Giving mean to people that will not have to protect that money would –
SPOKESMAN: Reverend Sharpton, thank you.