Posted on July 22, 2002 in Washington Watch

It is mid-summer 2002 but political activity in the United States continues to build in preparation for the November congressional elections. As part of this effort, the Arab American Institute (AAI) has just released its biannual congressional voter guide, a handy reference that details the voting records of all 435 members of Congress and 100 Senators on matters of concern to Arab Americans. This year’s report evaluates congressional activity on ten issues divided between foreign and domestic policy.

In the foreign affairs section, the report covers congressional actions on such issues as:

  • anti-Palestinian legislation

  • US aid to Lebanon

  • US policy toward Iraq

  • policy toward Syria, and

  • congressional actions reflecting concern for balance toward the broader Middle East.

On the domestic front the report includes consideration of congressional actions dealing with such issues as:

  • immigration

  • bigotry and discrimination against Arab Americans

  • civil liberties, and

  • hate crimes.

What is striking about this year’s report is that despite the number of highly publicized anti-Arab actions taken by both the White House and Congress, the number of members of Congress with either perfect or near perfect voting records has grown to include almost 70 Congress members.

While the number of members of Congress with very negative voting records is more than 200, this is largely due to their behavior with regard to foreign affairs. On the domestic side, many more members of Congress are supportive of Arab American concerns. Still, with over 80 members of Congress not voting for this year’s anti-Palestinian pro-Israeli resolution, and with almost 50 members of Congress proposing more balanced Middle East peace resolutions of their own, the number of members of Congress reflecting positive attitudes on foreign affairs has grown to its present high.

Cynics may dismiss this fact but the reality is that there are today many more Congress members seeking to be fair and supportive of Arab American concerns than ever before. About three-quarters of those members of Congress with positive records are Democrats, eleven come from California, seven from Michigan, and four each from Ohio and Wisconsin.

There will be significant electoral tests for Arab Americans later this summer. Primary elections in Michigan and Georgia will see strong friends of the Arab American community facing serious political challenges.

The Michigan contest takes place August 6. As a result of redistricting, what once was Michigan’s 16th congressional district, which was the home of the largest concentration of Arab Americans in any congressional district in the United States, has now been divided in half. The two parts of the old 16th district have now been joined with other areas creating new congressional districts. In one of these (the new 14th district), Congressman John Conyers, a long time friend of Arab Americans and champion of civil rights legislation, will now have more Arab Americans among his constituents than ever before. Conyers is not expected to have any problems in his reelection effort. The new 15th congressional district, however, presents Arab Americans with a problem since it joins together the districts of two members of Congress, John Dingell and Lynn Rivers. Both of them are friends of the community each and each has a perfect voting record on Arab American concerns. They must now run against each other in the August primary. John Dingell, the Dean of the Congress, has been a long time friend of and leading advocate for the community and his bid for reelection in this contest appears to have the support of a majority of Arab Americans in the area.

Michigan is also home to one of this year’s most exciting gubernatorial races. With current Republican Governor John Engler stepping down, three Democrats are competing in the August primary for the right to represent their party against the eventual Republican nominee. The three Democrats are Jennifer Granholm, who currently serves as the state’s Attorney General, James Blanchard who previously served two terms as Michigan’s governor prior to Engler’s election and is seeking to return to that post, and Congressman David Bonior. Bonior has been in Congress for 26 years and has long been a champion of the Arab American community. He is a strong advocate for Palestinian and Lebanese rights and for the civil and political rights of Arab Americans.

When this election began earlier this year polls showed Bonior a distant third, recording less than 10 percent support. He has aggressively campaigned, won the support of unions, environmentalists, and many of Michigan’s ethnic communities including Arab Americans. Most recent polls show that today the Michigan gubernatorial primary is a virtual three-way tie.

An additional race drawing significant national attention is taking in place in Georgia’s fourth congressional district. That contest shows five-term Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney being challenged by Yale-educated, former judge Denise Majette. Some observers see this race as a replay of the Hillard-Davis election in Alabama that took place earlier this summer.

McKinney, who has a perfect voting record on Arab American concerns, has also received significant support from Arab Americans during her tenure in Congress. Because she has been a fierce advocate for Palestinian rights she has also incurred the wrath of pro-Israel groups who are supporting her challenger.
McKinney also drew national attention earlier this year when she made some extreme statements challenging President George W. Bush’s truthfulness regarding the events of September 11. These attacks have served to further fuel support for Majette’s campaign. The Georgia primary is scheduled for August 24.

To learn more about how all members of Congress voted on issues of concern to Arab Americans consult the AAI voter guide. Beginning July 24 it will be available online at www.aaiusa.org. What is clear is that Arab Americans have many good friends in Congress. But what is equally true is that the summer primaries and the November elections present the community with important challenges: to defend friends and to win new respect as a political constituency.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

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