'Judge the Man,' Not the Statement

Host Farai Chideya continues the conversation with Joe Reed, a longtime friend of John Tanner and chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference. He says Tanner has a strong record of fighting for civil rights and is committed to preserving voting rights.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Meanwhile, John Tanner declined our invitation to come on our program, but Tanner's office gave us a statement. Here's part of it.

(Reading) The reports of my comments do not, in any way, accurately reflect my career of devotion to enforcing federal laws designed to assure fair and equal access to the ballot. I am honored to have the opportunity to do this work and I am honored to serve with the dedicated employees of the voting section who, day-in and day-out, work hard to protect the rights of all Americans under the Voting Rights Act.

We now have a guest who supports Tanner's role at the Justice Department. Joe L. Reed is chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference. He's also associate executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, and a longtime friend of John Tanner's. Thanks for coming on.

Dr. JOE REED (Chairman, Alabama Democratic Conference; Associate Executive Secretary, Alabama Education Association): Thanks for having me.

CHIDEYA: So you were listening to Congressman Davis' remarks. Do those reflect the man that you know?

Mr. REED: No, they do not. And let me say we have a very fine congressman from Alabama. Congressman Davis is an able congressman. He's doing well and he's going to go places.

Having said that, I've known John Tanner really longer than I've known nearly Congressman Davis. John Tanner has a good record on civil rights. He's been an aggressive monitor of civil rights in the state of Alabama. He has made Alabama - made the racist element in Alabama behave. He has been on the cutting edge, he's been there for us when we needed him even if he made the - these comments he made. You know, I don't find them so offensive that, I think, that they - that he needs to be fired.

CHIDEYA: Let's take a look at another situation that he was talking about. He came under some scrutiny in a 2005 memo to the Franklin County Civil Division in Columbus, Ohio. And Ohio was a real make-or-break state in the last presidential election.

So he addressed the possibility of voter disenfranchisement during the 2004 presidential election. And he wrote: The reality is the allocation of voting machines actually favored black voters because more whites were voting on each voting machine than black voters.

He basically was saying that white people were at a disadvantage. Do you find as an African-American man that that cut on the situation when many people argued quite the opposite that people in urban areas, many African-Americans were in long lines - how do you make sense of that?

Dr. REED: Well, first of all, I think, we ought to increase the voting machines wherever they are needed whether they are in Alabama or in Ohio.

I go back then. You have judge a man, the whole man, not just one statement -and one isolated statement in the one case. He worked with us in Alabama to get more black polling officials. Alabama has more black polling officials per capita than any other state of the nation. Alabama has more black elected officials than any state in the nation per capita. The Alabama legislature is the only legislature in our - in this country. That pretty much reflects the racial population of the state by none.

John Tanner was in the middle of that. I drew real reapportion plans for myself. John Tanner - he would done it the days of Brad Ramos(ph). And he was very instrumental in getting Brad Ramos to sustain his decision and to sustain our position. So we've increased our numbers in Alabama legislature. And our goal has been and we are pretty much arrived at them in Alabama.

We don't have any chambers of the government, in this state or blacks of over 10 to 15 percent without having us black representation at the local, the district and state levels.

CHIDEYA: Well, Mr. Reed, let me just - one last thing.

Dr. REED: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: When you think about the way that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department has been in the news, all of the controversies over whether it is pursuing a voting rights and civil rights agenda, how does John Tanner fit into that? Do you believe that he has a commitment to upholding and even forwarding voting rights?

Dr. REED: Yes. Based on the evidence, based on his record, based on his comments and based on the things he has done in Alabama over the years, John Tanner deserves to just stay on with the Justice Department where he is. And I would hope that we keep one thing in mind, if you get rid of John Tanner, who are you going to replace him with? Because I can tell you, I don't believe that you're going to find any person around there who's going to be any more committed to protecting the rights of individuals than John Tanner, blacks included. And I know because I've been there; I'm there every day. I've been on the frontline of some 40 nearly 50 years and long before John Tanner came on. So John Tanner has a record. If he needs to be reprimanded, I assume somebody will reprimand him. I think the hearing is going to help him ultimately.

CHIDEYA: Well, Mr. Reed, thank you so much…

Dr. REED: Yes.

CHIDEYA: …for coming on.

Dr. REED: Well, thank you very much. And John Tanner needs to stay on.

CHIDEYA: Joe Reed is chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference. He's also associate executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association and a longtime friend of John Tanner.

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