Clyburn: Stimulus Refusal 'A Slap in the Face' to Blacks, Even if Unintentional

Adhering to fiscal conservatism is difficult in this highly charged political environment, especially when opponents are likely to counter your argument with “the race card.”

At a press conference Feb. 19, Rep. James Clyburn, D – S.C., suggested the possibility that some governors may refuse money from the $787-billion stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed might be for racial reasons.

“It’s kind of interesting, because there’s a colored thread that ran through that,” Clyburn said. “The governor of Louisiana expressed opposition. Louisiana has the highest African-American population in the country. The governor of Mississippi expressed opposition. The governor of Texas and the governor of South Carolina – these four governors represent states that are in the proverbial black belt. I was particularly insulted by that.”

He explained his criticisms were not directed solely at Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who has said he is still open to the possibility of accepting stimulus money. Clyburn explained that South Carolina was in need of the money, having a high unemployment rate comparative to other states.

“And so, as I said time and time again – this is an issue much broader than South Carolina and much bigger than Gov. Sanford,” Clyburn said. “And to have these four governors from these four states not wanting to participate in the recovery – we know that here in South Carolina, unemployment is 9.5 percent, third-highest in the nation. We know that when you look at unemployment figures, we know where the people are hurting.”

Clyburn himself had inserted an amendment into the stimulus bill stating that, should the governor of any state reject any portion of the money meant for the state in the stimulus, the state legislature could overrule that governor. This amendment has been widely criticized as pointed directly at the fiscally conservative Sanford, and possibly an unconstitutional usurpation of governors’ executive powers.

Clyburn maintained that his take on the stimulus issue was “much broader than Gov. Sanford,” meaning that his criticism that this opposition might have racial tones was not directed at the South Carolina governor alone.

“All of this – was a slap in the face of African-Americans and that’s why I did what I did,” Clyburn added. “It had little to do with Sanford.”

Clyburn appeared on MSNBC on Feb. 20 to clarify reports about the racial component of the opposition to the stimulus money by the states. He noted the governor of Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal, has no difficulty in asking for money to rebuild for New Orleans. However, he is apprehensive about accepting money from the stimulus.

“In this stimulus package, we defined that if you got census tracks that for the last 30 years that have had poverty rates more than 20 percent, you get added money to treat those ills,” Clyburn said. “Why would [Jindal] turn that down? Because, those census tracks are right there in the center of New Orleans and that is why I say this is an insult to say, ‘We are going to turn down the stimulus money aimed at these communities, yet we are going to accept it for everything else that you want to do to rebuild after Katrina.”

However, Clyburn backed off the original premise that it was an intentional “slap in the face,” by saying the end result was still an insult to African-American sensibilities. He referred to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and how a provision added in 1982 deemed that the result was the determining factor of compliance, not the means by which it is applied.

“So, I’m not saying that anybody maybe doing it intentionally,” Clyburn added. “Sometimes you may turn around too fast and slap me in the face. You didn’t intend to do it – I was still slapped in the face. And so, that’s all I’m saying here – all of these arguments irrespective of what your intentions are – these arguments have an adverse on impact on communities that have been underserved and we ought to stop making the arguments because it doesn’t take anybody of that high intelligence to know what the impact is.”