WASHINGTON – Sen. Don Nickles, the first Senate Republican to suggest that Trent Lott should be replaced as their leader, has built a civil rights voting record that is nearly identical to that of the man he would depose.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says that over the past decade, Nickles and Lott have voted the same on almost every issue deemed important by the civil rights community. And in almost every case, their votes were contrary to the wishes of that community.
On the other hand, both Nickles, of Oklahoma, and Lott, of Mississippi, win the highest ratings from conservative groups. In 2000, the American Conservative Union gave both 100 percent ratings on key votes.
Lott, Senate Republican leader since 1996, is to become Senate majority leader next month. But his position in the party is in jeopardy because of statements he made at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party Dec. 5 indicating a nostalgia for the South's pro-segregation past.
Nickles, currently the second-ranked Senate Republican and a past rival for Lott's leadership position, on Sunday became the first GOP senator to call for new leadership elections.
"I am concerned that Trent has been weakened to the point that may jeopardize his ability to enact our agenda and speak to all Americans," Nickles said.
Since the controversy began, Lott's critics have tried to show that for the past two decades he has consistently voted against civil rights bills. His allies, in turn, have produced records showing that Nickles and Lott are ideological compatriots.
In 1983, for example, both Lott, then in the House, and Nickles opposed a new federal holiday commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Nickles unsuccessfully pushed alternatives to a paid holiday, including observing the holiday on a Sunday. Lott said the holiday would cost the government too much money and that there were other Americans "more deserving."
However, Lott reversed course in an interview with Black Entertainment Television Monday night, in which he addressed the controversy that's put his leadership position in jeopardy, and said he now supports the federal King holiday.
Lott and Nickles in 1983 also backed a Jesse Helms amendment that would have preserved the tax-exempt status of private schools, such as Bob Jones University, which then banned interracial dating. The measure was defeated.
In 1990, the two senators both voted to uphold the first President Bush's veto of legislation to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban workplace discrimination. The president contended it would lead to racial quotas.
The NAACP, in its scorecards of the past six Congresses, found Nickles and Lott voted identically in four Congresses on the votes it tracked, and differed by one or two votes in the other two Congresses.
In the 107th Congress that just ended, the NAACP gave Lott a 14 percent rating for voting with NAACP recommendations on five of 37 civil rights-related bills, while Nickles got a 19 percent rating with seven votes.
Among the issues where the senators differed with the NAACP were funding for Head Start and other education programs, the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general and global AIDS funding.
Both got 13 percent ratings in the 1999-2000 Congress, and in 1997-1998, Lott and the NAACP agreed on two out of 10 votes, Nickles on only one out of 10.
"We are concerned that Nickles has voted just as poorly or even more poorly than Trent Lott," said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington office.
The two have differed on several major civil rights measures. In 1982, then-Rep. Lott voted against extending the Voting Rights Act, while Nickles, then a first-term senator, voted for it.
In 1991, Nickles voted with the majority to defeat a measure to abolish affirmative action in federal hiring. Lott backed the measure.
And last year, Lott was the only dissenting vote in a 93-1 vote to approve Roger Gregory as the first black judge on the U.S. Appeals Court for the 4th Circuit, which covers several southern states. Lott said he objected to then-President Clinton making a temporary appointment of Gregory while Congress was in recess.
Among other votes:
—In 1991, both voted with a 93-5 majority to strengthen federal civil rights law and extend damages for intentional employment discrimination.
—In 1993, both voted to extend the Confederate flag design patent for the Daughters of the Confederacy. The measure was defeated 75-25
—In 1994, both sided with a Helms amendment to strip federal funding from the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission. The amendment was defeated.
—In 1998, both voted to eliminate a disadvantaged business enterprise program established in the Reagan administration to ensure that a certain percentage of federal contracts went to businesses headed by minorities and women. The program was preserved on a 58-37 vote.