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Commentary: NAACP's Bond late to the game on Dem delegate battle

  • Story Highlights
  • Roland S. Martin: Seating of Michigan, Florida delegates a Dem dilemma
  • NAACP should have spoken out when rules were changed, Martin says
  • Timing of Bond's letter gets attention from conspiracy-minded bloggers
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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(CNN) -- 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.

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Roland S. Martin says the NAACP's Julian Bond is late in complaining about Democratic delegate rules.

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 when the initial Democratic National Committee rules were made?

The DNC was clear: only four states,­ Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, will vote before February 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 Latino population and it's a Western state, and South Carolina because of its black population and it's a Southern state.

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

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Anyone with a brain could see that if the DNC went through with its 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 among 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 that all sides agreed to. But Clinton is leading the charge to seat the delegates, especially since she "won" both states, even though she was often quoted as saying the results won't mean a thing because the election will not count.

But since 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 in the February 14 edition 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 February 8 letter, Bond said that 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 the Associated Press, it was reported that he wanted the states given to Clinton and then seated in her favor. NAACP officials told me that was not the case, and he was not advocating on behalf of one candidate or another.

In an email 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 hurriedly drafted on Friday, as evidence 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.

In an e-mail to me, Berry said: "I'm concerned about two things, possible disenfranchisement and conflict at the convention, no matter who is the nominee; conflicted conventions end up in defeat. What Julian said in his letter, which I read, about feelings of disenfranchisement I share; the point is nobody can tell people how to feel and if they feel screwed, they'll make trouble."

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 a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at http://www.rolandsmartin.com/.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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