Black Caucus Rejects Membership of White

Seth Blomeley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Fayetteville), February 10, 2009

Rep. Richard Carroll of North Little Rock, Arkansas’ only Green Party legislator, asked to be a member of the Arkansas Black Legislative Caucus but was rejected because he’s white.

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Caucus Chairman Rep. Nancy Duffy Blount, D-Marianna, likened the situation to a man wanting to be part of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.

“With men, there are some things that men can understand and share and there are some things they can’t because they’re not women,” Blount said. “Same thing here.”

Carroll represents District 39 in southern and eastern North Little Rock. The historically Democratic district has a black population of 65 percent, according to 2000 census data used to draw the districts in 2001.

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Carroll, 52, said he wanted to be a caucus member to better represent and understand the views of his constituents. He said he could ask his wife, who is black, for her thoughts, but that she would only be one person.

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“You have to be an elected legislator and you have to be black,” Blount said.

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The latest bylaws for the caucus on file at the Bureau of Legislative Research give no race requirement for membership.

It says that the membership “shall consist of any current member of the Arkansas General Assembly who pays an annual membership.” But the bureau staff didn’t know whether those bylaws were current.

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She said she doesn’t have a copy of the bylaws but based her understanding of the membership requirements on “common sense” and from what caucus vice chairman, Sen. Tracy Steele, D-North Little Rock, told her the bylaws said. Steele later said he had “no idea” what the bylaws said about membership.

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Another caucus member, Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said Carroll’s interest in the caucus is “commendable” but “since it’s called the ‘black caucus’ he can’t be a member. It is a caucus defined as being black. All discrimination is not bad. You can discriminate about whether you are going to drink four beers or 10 beers. I would say that’s good discrimination.”

Elliott said excluding whites is a legitimate form of discrimination because black legislators need to join with others of “common cause.”

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Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, said, “Anyone who has the concerns of the caucus ought to be a member of the caucus.”

But he said he didn’t know whether Carroll should be a full member or have some sort of auxiliary membership instead.

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