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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

McCollum's MLK Day problem

20

January

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican running for governor, said he regrets a long-ago 1983 vote he made as a congressman against making Martin Luther King Day a paid federal holiday. But he said “shortly after the vote,” he realized the error of his ways and that he said “numerous times in town meetings and other places…that was a mistake, a bad vote on my part.”

Two problems:

1) There’s no record of anything remotely approaching a statement of contrition from McCollum out of the 219 items that the Nexis news-clip service displays when you search his name and that of the civil rights icon. But perhaps the press missed the "numerous" explanations, especially in 2000 when it was brought up in articles during his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid against Bill Nelson.

2) But there is this St. Petersburg Times clip, on May 10, 1989, headlined “An Embarrassment to Florida” in which McCollum is taken to task for voting against the holiday.

So that means there were at least two votes: The one in 1983 to establish the holiday and one in 1989 to finance the holiday. And McCollum’s explanation yesterday that he had a come-to-Jesus moment soon after just doesn’t wash with the record. 

Also, McCollum’s stated reason for voting against the holiday – that he was concerned about the cost to taxpayers and “debt” – doesn’t necessarily jibe with his later voting record in Congress in 1995 and 1996, when he voted to increase the national debt limits.

True, those votes and the MLK votes were years apart and each vote had its own particular context that made it unique. Consider: McCollum approved funding for the holiday in another 1989 vote. After all, this is Congress, where long-serving members wind up on every side of the issue because part of the Washington game is designed to make you take bad votes over and over.

Here’s the transcript of McCollum’s statements Tuesday to the press about his past vote:

I voted against it back in 1983, a long time ago, and I did it on the basis of my concern over creating a federal holiday in which we had federal employees who were going to be given a day off work with pay, which is adding to the cost of the budget. At that time, I was very concerned – and probably a little naïve because I think Martin Luther King was a great leader, and I’ve said numerous times in town meetings and other places, as I was a congressman, that was a mistake, a bad vote on my part. I should have had more thought into it and thought about the fact that he is so important a figure to such a large segment of our community and represents so many of the values that we share that I should have let that supersede the fiscal concerns I had. But I voted on it, as I said, I voted on it on the basis of the budget that I faced as a young congressman and the tremendous debt that we used to have in those days, which we again now have in Congress. They’ve gone farther, much farther, than what I saw when I was first there in terms of debt.

Q: When did you realize you were wrong?

In the '80s, shortly after the vote, I couldn’t tell you the exact year. This was, what, 25 years ago.
It was very apparent to me, upon reflection soon after that, that it was not a good vote. I shouldn’t have made the vote that way. Even though it does cost a lot of money. I would have preferred to have it not a paid holiday for all the federal employees. It’s a big cost to the taxpayers.

But, honoring, Martin Luther King – always thought it was a good idea. Even when I cast the vote.

-- Marc Caputo

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[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 2:15pm]

    

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