Back talk with Maxine Waters.
Waters, 66, won her first election in 1976 to the California State Assembly, where she became an advocate for women's issues. She was elected to Congress in 1990, representing the 35th Congressional District, which would later become the epicenter of the 1992 riots when police officers involved in the Rodney King beating were acquitted.
BLACK ENTERPRISE recently caught up with Waters to find out how she's planning to challenge a Republican-controlled Congress.
Why are you taking on the mandatory sentencing laws? The incarceration rate of black men has reached a point that it is destroying the black community's ability to exercise a strong vote. And it's robbing the community of fathers, while eliminating the opportunity for young people to have a decent quality of life, a job, and, more importantly, a career.
You're suggesting that black men are unfairly being imprisoned. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws do not leave the judge with any discretion. They have to follow the strict mandatory minimum and sentence people who are involved in pretty minor crimes in a harsh way ... no matter if this was a first offense, no matter that they enrolled in college and they come from a good family, or that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Your campaign is a big undertaking. I'm also working on election reform. The debacle of Florida in 2000 that allowed George W. Bush to be selected instead of elected--there are issues that have never been resolved.
But Bush and members of the Republican Party were all re-elected in 2004? The Republican Party is philosophically so conservative. It's being controlled by right-wing evangelicals. They are bent on having total and complete control of the United States and they are clear on what they think is their responsibility to protect the riches and the resources of the privileged of this nation.
You've publicly criticized Bush for his 2006 budget. Very loudly because his budget is a slash-and-burn budget that makes deep cuts in our Medicare and Medicaid program; deep cuts in our Health & Human Services budget; deep cuts in HUD, which means we are eliminating all of the block grant money known as the Community Development Block Grant money that goes to the city. This money helps first-time home buyers--people with very little income or with limited income--to get down payments to get into houses. I'm very critical of Bush because he's coming to us with a supplemental appropriation of over $80 billion to continue the war in Iraq.
Is it safe to say you do not support his handling of the war in Iraq? I did not support us being there to begin with. We found no weapons of mass destruction and the preemptive strike notion is something that we cannot allow presidents to easily exercise because it's costly in money, resources, and lives.
What has been your greatest accomplishment while in office? I think some of my greatest accomplishments were when I was chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. I was fortunate that Bill Clinton was the president. I was able to forge a whole new budget and a whole new approach for dealing with HIV/AIDS. Because HIV/AIDS was spiraling out of control in the black community, I confronted the administration and forced it to [recognize] that it was an emergency within the black community. I got the administration to create a whole new budget of over $300 million to be directed toward the minority community. African American women represent 65% to 70% of all the new AIDS cases.
Several people have been critical of the Congressional Black Caucus. Is it an effective organization? The Congressional Black Caucus is very effective. Much of the work that we do is stopping bad things from happening. All or the work of the caucus is not seen simply in producing a piece of paper, for example. This is a very complicated business and we have to use our influence to work directly in ways that will prevent unfortunate kinds of decisions from taking place. Yes, we're working in a hostile environment with Republicans in charge. [They] don't agree with the black agenda, and that's why we work so hard to get them out of office. To the degree that the Republicans are not in charge, we're more successful. When the Republicans are in charge, certainly we have to work harder.
What's next for you? I still have a lot of work to do here in Congress. At my age, I'm interested in perfecting this craft and there are a lot of accomplishments that I would like to make in education, in business, working in ways that strengthen education and prevent dropouts. We need more successful young people to graduate from college. We can do a better job of getting access to capital and to forge joint ventures in ways that benefit our young people.
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2005|
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