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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Senator Scott Explains Why Some Groups' "Scorecards" for Members of Congress are Stupid

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who became the first black U.S. Senator from South Carolina last year after Gov. Nikki Haley (R) appointed him to replace Sen. Jim DeMint (R), who resigned to take over the Heritage Foundation, and became the first black U.S. Senator elected from the South since Reconstruction and the first African-American in U.S. history to be elected to both the House and the Senate by winning a special election on Tuesday to fill the remainder of DeMint's term, appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe last week. In response to a question about his "agenda" from fellow guest Joe Klien, Scott said that he was "very interested in creating a foundation of education for . . . kids living in poverty, kids like myself who perhaps live in the wrong ZIP code, going to underperforming schools." Thomas Roberts, one of the more muted left-wing ideologues on the network, took issue with that. He challenged the Senator:

Sir, you said . . . you are concerned about kids that are growing up in the wrong zip code and like yourself that had a tough start on the way out, but if we look at agencies that are following some of your voting records, [then] they have concern, and the NAACP has given you an "F" on their annual scorecard. They also say you voted against the ACA; you voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress; you oppose the Congressional Black Caucus' budget, delayed funding on a settlement between the U.S. and black farmers who say that they were prejudiced against because of their race. So how do you respond to that, if your true concern is about lower income families and kids?
Scott's response is priceless:

Note the apparent (and erroneous) assumption underlying Roberts's question: that these "agencies that are following some of [the Senator's] voting records" also "have concern" about what Senator Scott said he is "concerned about". I am sure that there are groups that track the voting records of members of Congress and are genuinely concerned about children living in poverty who are deprived of the opportunities other children have because of where they're growing up, but the example Roberts cited was the NAACP. As I mentioned in a post over two years ago, the NAACP has become a partisan entity, but a number of voters (including, it would seem, Thomas Roberts) still see it as a trustworthy, independent source of information. If the NAACP is truly concerned about kids that are growing up in the wrong ZIP code and have "a tough start on the way out," as Roberts suggested, then why is the organization officially opposed to school voucher plans and state takeovers of poorly performing school districts, especially in light of its National Education Program's professed objective "to ensure that all students have access to an equal and high-quality public education by eliminating education-related racial and ethnic disparities in our public schools"? Not only does the NAACP adamantly oppose school choice, but it has actively joined legal efforts in Florida and North Carolina challenging the constitutionality of those states' voucher programs.

Notice also the list of votes Roberts ticked off that evidently earned Scott his failing grade on the NAACP's scorecard. What exactly does voting against Obamacare, voting to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt, opposing the Congressional Black Caucus' budget, or delaying funding on a settlement between the U.S. and black farmers have to do with being concerned about kids who are growing up in the wrong ZIP code and going to underperforming schools? Roberts did not say, and I can't fathom a connection. The Senator appropriately brought up something he had voted on that was related to the issue. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, he pointed out, "has produced [a] higher percentage of kids going to college:" "91% of the kids graduating from high school versus 56% for those who are simply in everyday schools in D.C." (Scott misspoke; he was referring to the graduation rate among students in the program versus public school students in D.C., not what percentage of high school graduates the program has produced, but his numbers check out. 91% of students who used a voucher to attend private school graduated high school, while the DCPS (District of Columbia Public Schools) graduation rate last year was 56%.) Curiously absent from the votes Roberts listed was the House of Representatives 2011 vote on H.R. 471, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, which restored the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and increased the scholarship amounts for the 2011-2012 school year. In addition to voting for the SOAR Act, Scott was a cosponsor of the legislation. Shortly before the vote, the NAACP stated in an "urgent action alert" that they were "vigorously opposed to this legislation . . . due to the fact that the 5 year pilot program in D.C. was, by all accounts, a failure; neither the majority of D.C. residents nor their democratically elected representatives want the program; and due to our underlying opposition to school vouchers."

Without delving into the obvious biases and inaccuracies in the NAACP's stated reasons for opposing the restoration of a program that an independent, federally-mandated evaluation determined was "a success," I can see why Roberts wouldn't call attention to Scott's support for, or the NAACP's opposition to, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. This brief exchange between the two men provides an example of how loosely tethered some of these "scorecards" for elected officials are to the purported missions of the groups doing the scoring.

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