Though President Obama’s election in 2008 was historic, this election might be the more important for African-American voters in Pennsylvania and other battleground states, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., told the Tribune, citing his concerns about the state’s new voter ID law.
“What the legislature has done here in Pennsylvania ought to be a wake-up call to African Americans,” he said.
Clyburn was in Philadelphia Monday as part of a larger tour of New England and the Northeast for the Obama campaign. In addition to appearing at a press conference with Mayor Michael Nutter and two public school teachers to discuss the potential impact of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget on public education, the congressman sat down for an exclusive interview with the Tribune. A congressional veteran who has served in the House since 1993, Clyburn shared his candid opinions on a variety of topics.
Since August 11, when presidential candidate Mitt Romney named Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, national debate has centered on Ryan — largely considered a budget policy wonk — and how his potential budget might hit a number of social programs.
Ryan’s nomination has changed the face of the race.
“I do not feel the glee that everyone does,” said Clyburn. “Because, I think that his presence on the ticket stimulates both bases: ours and his.”
While that may seem like a good thing, Clyburn worried that voter ID laws in states controlled by Republican legislatures may successfully keep Obama supporters from the ballot box.
“Pennsylvania is ground zero in all of this,” Clyburn said. “If my base is ginned up, and they’re being denied the vote, which is certainly a possibility all too often here in Pennsylvania, then I’m not going to be gleeful.”
On a positive note, the ticket does highlight Republican tactics and the party’s approach to budgeting and a number of important social programs, he said.
“It does allow us to have the discussion we wanted to have,” he said, adding that in his estimation, neither Ryan nor Romney is a “credible candidate” because both have declined to lay out specific policy changes — instead rolling out vague policies and budget proposals.
“To me you aren’t a credible candidate if you don’t lay out specifics — if you don’t answer questions about what’s basic — and finances are basic,” he said.
That raises the stakes, Clyburn said, because voters can be entirely sure what a vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket would mean.
The congressman laid out a series of possibilities. If the Romney/Ryan ticket succeeds in capturing the White House, Republicans could repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, change the way public and higher education are funded, slash Medicare and overhaul welfare. As he ran down the list of programs that could be affected — from healthcare to Pell Grants — Clyburn noted that cutting spending in almost any one of the programs would hit Blacks harder than other groups.
“It would disproportionately affect African Americans, negatively,” he said, adding: “And, it would disproportionately hit the Mitt Romneys of the world too, in a positive way.”
According to Clyburn, the president’s health care reforms, his education spending and Pell grant funding have helped Blacks.
“This has a positive impact for African Americans, probably a greater impact on African-American households than any other group,” he said.