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Lieberman defends civil rights record

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman defended his civil rights record Tuesday and told African-American Democratic leaders, "I have supported affirmative action, I do support affirmative action and I will support affirmative action."

The declaration by the two-term senator from Connecticut -- who marched in Washington with Martin Luther King in 1963 and led student black voter registration drives in Mississippi that same year -- was applauded by members of the Democratic National Convention black caucus.

Some caucus members had questioned his support of a 1998 California ballot proposition that banned state-funded affirmative action programs and his endorsement of state-funded vouchers helping parents to switch their children from public to private schools.

Noting his activities during the civil rights era, the man picked by Al Gore to be his running mate assured the group of his commitment to their cause.

"I believe the quest for true equal opportunity and equality is the driving and most fundamental principle of American life and it is the one I have been committeed to throughout my life," he said.

Lieberman was escorted to the meeting by Eleanor Holmes Norton, a black D.C. delegate to Congress who thanked him for his "perfect voting record on affirmative action when it has come under assault."

What brought his position into question was the way he answered a reporter's question about California Proposition 209 in 1998.

"The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting," the affirmative action ban passed by California voters stated.

"I said, 'that sounds to me like a basic statement of human rights policy,'" Lieberman told the caucus. "That was about it. I added, like so many others, I supported affirmative action. I've not supported quotas. I know there are some questions about whether some sorts of affirmative actions have become quotas."

Lieberman said he later refused to endorse the proposition.

Asked about his position on voucher programs, Lieberman said, "It is a fact I have supported some demonstration programs for vouchers. But let me make real clear the focus of my attention and the main support that I have always given has been to the public schools, because that's where most of the children will be educated.

"That's where I got the training that helped me to be able to get into Yale and then do everything else I have done in my life," he said. "That's what I want to see -- a first-rate public school education for every child, no matter where they live in America and no matter how rich or poor their families are."

Caucus members burst into applause during his final comment and won over one of the most concerned potential critics, California Rep. Maxine Waters.

"Oh sure, I'll support him," she said, "but I wasn't going to without knowing."


Tuesday, August 15, 2000

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