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Gingrich Warns GOP on Effort to End Preferences

August 08, 1995|JENNIFER CORBETT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) warned Monday that the Republican Party may be going too far in trying to end affirmative action programs and that it is arousing fear of a return to the policies of segregation.

Gingrich said the party should "spend four times as much effort reaching out to the black community to ensure that they know they will not be discriminated against, as compared to the amount of effort we've put into saying we're against quotas and set-asides."

In contrast to GOP presidential candidates Sens. Bob Dole of Kansas and Phil Gramm of Texas, Gingrich has softened his stance toward affirmative action and has tried to reach out to the African American community by scheduling a series of community forums.

Last week, Gingrich held the first of what is expected to be several meetings with Washington Mayor Marion Barry and residents of this predominantly black and Democratic city.

He tried to reassure residents of the financially troubled city, which was recently taken over by a federal control board, that the Republican-led Congress didn't want to run the district permanently, but only wanted to help reform its economy, schools and neighborhoods.

Gingrich's shift comes at a time when party leaders are recognizing that many African Americans support conservative causes, and if it weren't for the profound fears about racial questions, would be inclined to vote Republican.

In a Monday appearance on NBC's "Today" show, Gingrich said he is still opposed to quotas and set-asides, but that Republicans need to clearly communicate to the African American community that the party will protect civil rights and "that the federal government is going to stand firmly committed against discrimination."

Gingrich said also that he didn't think most African Americans wanted to see quotas based on race. Dole recently introduced legislation that would end federal affirmative action programs, and Gramm plans to continue to offer amendments to spending bills that would prohibit the federal government from awarding contracts based on race, national origin or gender.

Gingrich said that one of the most important things he has learned during his six months as House Speaker "is the legitimate fear of African Americans, who look back only 30 years ago to segregation, to state police who were beating people like [Rep.] John Lewis [D-Ga.] and you can sense the legitimate fear, that in the absence of a strong federal government, we could slide back into that kind of environment."

Meanwhile, it was Lewis who helped lead a protest of about 100 labor activists in Atlanta on Monday that disrupted a Gingrich speech on Republican plans to reform Medicare without severe cuts.

Lewis and the protesters marched into the hotel ballroom where Gingrich was scheduled to speak. Gingrich, who was waiting in another room, left without delivering his address.

After standing in the back of the ballroom for 20 minutes, the protesters began yelling, "Where is Newt?" They then left, and Lewis addressed them outside.

"We must tell the Speaker, Mr. Gingrich, and we must tell the Republicans to get their greedy hands off of Medicare," Lewis said.

Although Lewis said he appreciated Gingrich's words on affirmative action, he still accused the Speaker of leading radical extremists "who want to take us back to another period, undo what [Franklin D.] Roosevelt did, what [Harry S.] Truman did, what [John F.] Kennedy did, what Lyndon [B.] Johnson did," while recalling the civil rights march to Selma, Ala., 30 years ago.

Responding to Lewis, Gingrich--who was then attending the opening of a senior citizens' center in nearby Marietta, Ga.--said: "He has to decide whether he's a protester or a congressman."

A few hours later, Gingrich returned to the hotel to give his planned speech to an audience of about 200 at a public Medicare forum that was sponsored by the Congressional Institute, a conservative policy organization.

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