Republicans on Monday unanimously elected Senator Bill Frist (TN) as US Senate Majority Leader. Frist will fill the leadership position recently vacated by Senator Trent Lott (R-MS). Lott resigned from the position last week after being heavily criticized for making racist remarks at retiring Senator Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration.
Some senior Republican Senators told the New York Times that they view Frist’s leadership position as an opportunity to create a new kind of Republican Party that would be more responsive to minority populations and the needs of the disadvantaged. Frist, a retired heart surgeon, is close to President Bush and key presidential aides, including political strategist Karl Rove.
However, Frist’s record on civil rights and women’s rights does little to suggest a change in Republican policies. Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund gave Frist a zero percent rating for voting against choice in eight key issues, including emergency contraception, the global gag rule, and sex education. The National Organization for Women notes that his record on civil rights is no better than Lott’s, with Frist voting against affirmative action, hate crimes legislation, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. According to the Washington Post, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) gave Frist an “F” rating for voting against civil rights measures 75 percent of the time.
Professor Ron Walters of the University of Maryland, a specialist in African-American leadership, told the Post that racism is a common theme in the Republican Party, pointing to the recent remarks made by Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-NC), deputy majority whip in the House. Ballenger said that he had “segregationist feelings” towards former Rep. Cynthia McKinney and called her a “bitch.” “The same attention is not going to be paid to him as Lott because he’s not the head of the Senate,” Walters told the Post, “but these comments by Republicans have been made all along at all levels of government and haven’t received the proper spotlight. I blame the media for this. It’s given them a wide berth for all of this stuff.” The Feminist Majority is calling for Ballenger to follow Lott’s lead and remove himself from his current leadership post in the House.