An unedited interview with a U.S. Congressman
David Scott faces goliathic issues in US Congress
By Tomi Morris Johnson
©2003 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved.
US Congressman David Scott,
13th Congressional District
David is to Goliath as David Scott is to the US Congress.
This political analogy has prompted WingcomLtd to coin the term “goliathic” which interpreted means Georgia’s new Congressman, named after the biblical hero King David, faces “monolithic” challenges in Washington D.C. – the biggest being the economy, followed by war and voter apathy.
Born the son of a minister who owned a garbage business, Scott talks like a preacher, saying he is always chasing after God’s mission for himself. When greeting him, one is overtaken by politeness, a crushingly strong handshake, and penetrating eyes that do not wander. When you address David Scott, you are talking to a humble, soft spoken yet savvy individual who has years of experience in state politics; a man who happens to be a public servant at the pinnacle of political power, one who believes in saving face, a man finding himself steps away from the presidency. He has reached what he deems his destiny. One wonders how far he will go from there.
WingcomLtd’s Tomi Johnson had the opportunity to interview Scott at his headquarters in Jonesboro.
Johnson: Cornel West, an African American philosopher, in his Reader wrote: “The future of US progressive politics lies in the capacity of collective leadership to energize, mobilize, and organize working and poor people.” How can you impress on people of color that the political process in America still works to their benefit?
Scott: You can impress that by pointing out to African Americans two important things: It has been a relatively short time, only 37 years, since we’ve had the guaranteed right to vote and the Voting Rights Act. All we have to do is look at that in relationship to how long this country has been in existence - well over 226 years.
When we look at the recent comments of Trent Lott, the Lord has a way of bringing things to the forefront to illuminate our situation…that here we are…and Trent Lott made a profound statement, when he said, “Mississippi voted for Strom Thurman for President,” and he said, “We’re proud that we did.” And then he said, “This country would be better off if they had done the same thing.” Then he said, “We wouldn’t have these problems either.” You have to look at things to see them in the proper perspective. African Americans have to look at this whole situation: whether they’re better off, why they need to vote, how important is voting… by looking at these last 50 years…and looking at how long slavery was in existence as a manifestation of this country, this continent, of Western civilization, on these shores for over 400 years. This is a very important question, because there is so much that we have to do.
The number one issue facing the African American community is this: we don’t have a choice in this matter. We need to vote with more regularity than anybody. We need to be waiting in line at the polls to vote. No group’s destiny is intertwined more with the voting process than African Americans.
Johnson: You mentioned Trent Lott, exactly who has replaced him as majority leader, and has someone replaced him with different views and philosophies?
Scott: I felt very strongly that…you know some people said we should have left Trent Lott there, because as long as he’s there, he’s a wounded person, we keep everything on the forefront, maybe we can get more out of the Republicans with Trent Lott. Even on BET he said, “I’m for affirmative action. Is there something I can do?” But this man has been against it all his life as well as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. If someone had asked him at this time was he for reparations, he probably would have said, “YES.” But I come down on the side of saying what is right here. Fundamentally, it boils down to the fact that if we had accepted Trent Lott staying there, it would have been too great a price to pay. He had to leave; we had to say he had to leave. There is no way any African American could stand and say this man should stay where he is as majority leader of the Senate. He had to pay a price for that – to say those words. Over and over he said them, many times. As a matter of respect for us as a people, he had to go. The dye is cast. We can always use that. The Republican Party is on the defensive now. They have got to do more because it’s a constant reminder, what Trent Lott said. By the same token, he’s still in the Senate. Let him stay in the Senate. Let the people of Mississippi deal with him there. But he could not be in the position of leadership and in lineage to become President of the United States. What he said was such a great, dramatic hit at what democracy stands for…we had to say, “You’ve got to go.”
Johnson: You mentioned the Republicans, and both of us were at the inaugural ball held for Gov. Sonny Perdue. The Republicans are in the highest position of Georgia government. Do Republicans still need Black people in Georgia?
Scott: Yeah, they definitely do. They realize that more than anybody. The issue is whether they will allow them to proceed to get them involved, or whether the mainstay within the Republican Party will allow them to expand to be more attractive to African Americans. That rests in their hands to do. What is important for the African American voter is to understand, “How did this happen?” because it is a fact that 90% of the African American vote goes to Democratic candidates. A part of the reason why we have this Republican takeover in this state is because Black people stayed home. That is something that we must address. In every one of my speeches, wherever I go, whatever I say, a portion of what I speak about, whether it’s in a church sermon or wherever it is, I have to put it on the minds of people – the importance of voting. What good does it do to get registered to vote and then you don’t exercise that vote? It’s the squeaking wheel that gets the oil. The reason why we are where we are today and the political climate of the country today is in large measure because the African American voter as a whole has not taken full advantage of his franchise of voting. We had in some precincts, right here in my own district, we had 3,000 to 4,000 voters register, but only 800 came out to vote. Well, now, I not only look at that, but other people look at that and they begin to say, “What’s going on here? Black people are not voting.” So, what happens is, the political debate gets shifted away from those concerns that should be made, for our quality of living.
We need politics and government to work as a lever to help us more than other groups. All you have to do is look at how far we have come. We’ve broken down the walls of segregation because of political action, and we have increased our quality of life because we have voted and put people in office. So our issues are on the table. The presence of it, me being an African American congressman, whether I open my mouth or not while I’m there… I am some benefit to our people because I am there.
Johnson: In preparation for this interview, I asked my twelve-year-old daughter what types of questions I should ask you, and she said, “Ask him what is he going to do for me.” Of course, she doesn’t live in your district, but I’ve talked to people in your district, and they want to know, “What are you going to do to fix the potholes on their street?” Do you think voters are looking for you to solve problems like that? What would you say to them as far what your real role is in Washington?
Scott: I will help everywhere that I can, although dealing with a pothole is not my function; it’s the city’s function to do that, however, a call from a Congressman about a pothole to the city would be very helpful. We deal with the federal budget. Every dime that comes down to the state, we have to have a voice in. I have a voice in almost every policy that goes on. I have a pulpit from which I can speak, and I have influence I can use to help a constituent with a problem. My concerns are with national security, defense, foreign affairs, issues that differentiate me from the state and local level. My relationship with the local scene is to work through the state government, local governments and municipalities and assist those elected leaders in doing those jobs at the local level. Additionally, I make sure that I get as much of that tax dollar back to my home state of Georgia and have an impact on getting those dollars back to my district.
We deal with constituent services, problems that my constituents may have with the federal government. I am that direct extension. If there’s a problem with immigration, you come to me. If there’s a problem with Medicaid or other federal programs, you come to me. If you have a problem with social security, veteran’s affairs, the military, you come to me. Other issues dealing with zoning, potholes, or things like that, I will work as sort of a traffic cop to assist. I will not ever say to my constituents, “Well, I can’t help you, go see somebody else.” I will say, “Look, this is the proper person to handle that issue. Let me have somebody on my staff to just make a call and direct you to the right person.” It’s a way for me to use my influence with the city council or county government to say, “Would you deal with this person? This is their Congressman calling, and I would appreciate it very much.”
Congressman David Scott and his GA headquarters office staff.
Johnson: I think many voters are naïve as to what politicians can do and where they fit in to help them. I think our education has falter on that. I have a chance to talk to students daily. One thing that I’ve seen is that some of the ones who are failing are losing hope. How do you think we can improve education in the United States?
Scott: The basic ingredients in educational preparation are the teacher and the parent. We have to work to improve education with those two basic structures. We have to make sure we have quality, motivated, dedicated teachers in the classroom who want to be there and are not there because they can do nothing else, or are just there to use the classroom as a weigh station before they get somewhere else. We have to have solid, good teachers with competitive salaries, to give them that economic security and to make it attractive. I’m a strong believer in top salaries for teachers. During my 28 years in the Georgia legislature, on the committees on which I served, education is where I served most of those years. I put the moment of silence in public schools, sex education and AIDS instruction, and have been one of the front signers on the bill to give teachers pay increases. I fought for that. Our teachers are still inadequately paid. I want to make sure that we give them the pay that they need, the basic structure they need, cut down class sizes, and put more dollars into the construction of school buildings. As a Congressman, I will be working to make sure we get as much money out of the state budget into education. I will be working to increase the amount of dollars under the national treasury that will go directly to education. I will be a loud voice for improving the salary structure of teachers and reducing the size of the classroom. Once we can get good teachers in there who are dedicated, motivated, and inspired, then they’re going to stimulate those students. I know the teachers that made me. I can remember my third grade teacher, my 6th grade teacher; you can too. You can remember those teachers that made your experience in school so great. It was the good teachers who stood out. They seemed to take an interest in you. The teaching experience is very important to our children.
The other ingredient is that parent. We have to do more to involve the parent or guardian in the education process – some kind of reward system or effort to get parents more involved in the education of their students. There’s a lot that we can learn from some of the private, religious schools that emphasize parental involvement. Discipline is a problem in school because there is a problem at home. If you make the parent a part of the disciplinary correction program in school, you can do it. I advocate making parental involvement a criterion for getting the student back into the school system and classes after suspension. If you do that, you’ll get to the core of the problem. Let’s say if a kid is suspended, the one thing that is not there is a requirement that the parent be a part of the correctional program, even if it means attending there. Even if it means passing a law that requires the parent’s employer to allow the parent to attend the school or go to the classroom and not dock pay. Those are the kinds of creative things that I think we can do to simulate more parental involvement.
Johnson: Creative is a word you used. From what I’ve learned in my research on the Internet, what people are looking for these days are employees who are creative and can analyze data. With the high level of unemployment that we have, it’s a global issue. There are just not going to be the kinds of jobs created in this post-industrial/technology based society as there have been in the past. How do you as a Congressman face the issues of unemployment?
Scott: Right now we face immediacy. Government has a responsibility to extend unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed and are looking for work, who had a job and lost it. That’s why I have pushed for a 26-week extension of unemployment benefits. About 800,000 people were able to qualify, but there are a million more who have lost their jobs and are looking for work and can’t find it. An extension would mean that money would go immediately to help.
The answer to unemployment is to create jobs. There are two fundamental ways to create jobs and stimulate the economy. The most direct way which I am advocating which is creating ways that government can get money into the hands of people most likely to spend it. Jobs are created when people go out and spend money. It’s the force of supply and demand. When you spend money, it creates more demand, and that creates more jobs. Even if we put that unemployment benefit package together for 26 weeks, for 1.8 million people who could qualify, that would be $18 billion that would immediately go into the economy, stimulate it and create jobs. I would give across the board tax rebates, say $300 to the individual, $600 to the family, to give an immediate stimulant. I support a portion of President Bush’s tax cut, particularly the child credits. That’s another $1,000 that would go into the family’s hands right now. Tax cuts to small businesses and families, extension of unemployment benefits, tax rebates for child credits, all of these are direct pieces of money that can go from the treasury into the hands of the people who are most likely to spend it.
Johnson: Who is your role model?
I have several biblical role models that include Jesus Christ and David, my namesake in the Bible. There are a lot of parallels in our lives. People often refer to King David as a man after God’s own heart. God just so loved him. David was a man who was constantly striving and reaching after God’s heart. Reading about King David’s life is like reading a soap opera, but with all the human frailties, his hallmark was that he was always trying to please God and was chasing after Him.
And Jesus Christ…when I’m asked, “What makes a great person,” I refer back to when the question was asked of Aristotle, and he replied, “You’ve got to know thyself.” Then they put the question to Marcus Aurelius, a great Roman warrior, and he said, “Discipline thyself.” Then they put that same question to Jesus Christ, and he said, “Sacrifice thyself.”
Johnson: One of my role models is Dr. Haki Madhubuti who is a writer, political activist, and educator. He taught me that there are four levels of powerful people in the United States: 1) the politicians and the diplomats, 2) the businessmen and the industrialists, 3) the military, and 4) the scientists and technologists. Of course, you’re on the top tier, but I think the economy is the major problem we face. Do you foresee a bright picture ahead for the US economy?
Scott: Yeah, I do. I am very much optimistic, providing that we put in force those kinds of economic policies that I talked about, where you can get more money quickly into the hands of most of the people. If we understand the reason we are in the doldrums of a slow economy…it’s because most people do not have expendable income to stimulate the economy. The strategy has to be getting money into the hands of most of the people. If you look at the way the polls are going now, the American people understand this, and the president is not getting the high marks on his particular economic stimulus package. People are able to see this. They’re talking about dividends: what is that? Most people don’t have dividends, so why make your economic policy based upon giving more money to people who have most of the money? If we continue to do that, it’s going to take much longer…and at the same time we’re going to be fighting a war, which is going to eat up a lot of the economy, and it’s not going to be the kind of war that will stimulate the economy as previous wars have. Now, we don’t need as many people to fight the war because it’s going to be fought with high technology, surgical strikes, and there’s going to be a loss of revenue because we have built our military basis and military infrastructure on the past, and we’re basing our fight and battle plans on future technology. Fort Stewart near Savannah is a ghost town because they have taken the bulk of those military personnel out, so that one economy is going to be impacted. We are not going to be building the kinds of materials that we built in World War II when heavy industrial stuff was moving. It’s going to be a different ballgame now.
The beauty of this political system is that the voter will make the fundamental decision. This is still a country of the people. If we don’t have an economic policy that reflects the people, then we’re in for trouble. The President’s policy reflects some of the people, the people at the top of the economic ladder, the people who are not going to pump the money back into the economy. That poor person without a job, he’s going to be using money he gets to feed, clothe, house himself and keep himself going. That’s how you put money back into the economy.
This is an excerpt from an interview with Congressman Scott. Return to this page later for updates and additions. Comments? Email Tomi Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information in this article is the opinion of the author and, therefore, should not be construed as libelous.