NAACP's Bond late to the game regarding Dem. delegate battle

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond's decision to weigh in on the Democratic Party's conundrum when it comes to seating delegates from Michigan and Florida has created a firestorm of discussion on blogs and talk shows, and frankly, I'm still unclear as to what his intent was.

Sure, he and others have the freedom to weigh in on the issue. But why be a Julian-come-lately now, when the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization said nothing initially when the rules were made by the Democratic National Committee?

The DNC was clear: Only four states &

Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada &

would vote before Feb. 5. The first two didn't like the competition, but after hearing criticism that ethnic and geographic voices were not playing a part in determining the nominee, the party moved up Nevada &

because of the Hispanic population there and the fact that it's a Western state &

and South Carolina &

because of its black population and the fact that it's a Southern state.

DNC officials dropped the hammer and said if other states moved up, they would be punished severely. But the legislatures in Florida and Michigan, along with their governors, figured they could strong-arm the party to bend to their will, so they voted, approved and then signed into law bills to move up their primaries.

Anyone with a brain could see that if the DNC went through with their threat, voters there would be disenfranchised. Had the NAACP and other groups gone after the state legislators then, we wouldn't be in this position now. And with Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton so tight in the race for delegates, the decision not to fight the actions in Michigan and Florida is causing all kinds of problems.

Obama's position has been that the states broke the rules, all the candidates agreed not to campaign there, and the DNC should enforce the rules to which all sides agreed. But Clinton is leading the charge to seat the delegates, especially because she "won" both states, even though she often was quoted as saying the results won't mean a thing because those primaries will not count.

But because she didn't knock Obama out of the race on Super Tuesday and has since lost eight caucuses and primaries, she desperately needs those delegates, and her camp told The New York Times they will do everything they can to get them seated.

This brings us back to Bond, a veteran of the civil rights movement, who has pretty much run the group since the messy departure of Bruce Gordon as president and CEO this time last year.

In his Feb. 8 letter, Bond said he was worried that voters in both states "could ultimately have their votes completely discounted if they are not assigned delegate representation for the Democratic National Convention." When the story was picked up by The Associated Press, it was reported that he wanted the states to be given to Clinton and then seated in her favor.

NAACP officials told me that was not the case. They said he was not advocating on behalf of one candidate or another.

In an e-mail to me, Bond explained his reasoning behind the letter: "When these rules were set it was suspected at the time that they would be discriminatory for states with large African American populations. It seemed a harsh rule to disenfranchise millions of our voters just to appease the thousands of white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire," he said.

"Party rules never stated that candidates had to take their names off of the ballot as was the case in Michigan. This was something that the Iowa and New Hampshire state parties imposed on the candidates in a bidding war to show their allegiance to the first-in the-nation 'white' primaries.

"Both Iowa and New Hampshire strongly OPPOSED the addition of South Carolina and Nevada as early primary states. They fought the Black and Hispanic Caucus tooth and nail to stop this addition of states with Black and Brown populations having a greater say in the nomination process. They lost and in retaliation made the candidates sign a pledge to them &

not the DNC &

to not campaign there and not have their names on the ballot. Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd refused to sign this pledge and left their names on the ballot. Clinton did not go into Florida until after the polls closed keeping her pledge. The Obama campaign miscalculated on this issue and should have stood with Michigan and Florida given their strong African American populations.

"Had Obama won these states I am sure many people would be supporting this change in the rules." As someone who has opposed the leverage of Iowa and New Hampshire, I'm in agreement that they should not always be first. Yet that has nothing to do with today, and Bond knows it.

What is unclear is why he waited so long (he also didn't notify the NAACP's 64-member board of the letter) and why, according to my NAACP sources, he wrote the letter with help from Mary Frances Berry, former head of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as well as Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

The letter was drafted hurriedly on Friday, as evidenced by the three misspelled words in it. It's not clear why there was such a sense of urgency to get it out, but the fact that it came to light on Tuesday night, when Obama was steamrolling Clinton in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, has some conspiracy-minded bloggers making all kinds of assertions.

I have called and e-mailed Berry and Henderson for their responses, but none of my calls or e-mails has been returned.

The NAACP had an opportunity to speak for disenfranchised voters before this mess was created. That's when they should have weighed in. Their actions now look suspicious, and Bond has no one to blame but himself as the de facto leader of what once was a relevant organization.

Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN contributor and the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." Please visit his Web site at . To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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