ANNAPOLIS – Two legislative minority caucuses vowed to extend the life of a minority business program in the wake of comments from the governor and the comptroller about ending it.
The Legislative Black Caucus and the Women’s Caucus announced at a news conference Friday plans to sponsor legislation to extend the Minority Business Enterprise program to 2012 after Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Comptroller William Donald Wednesday questioned when the program would end.
At a news conference, the 1st vice president of the Black Caucus answered the question for the pair.
“You asked when the MBE program is going to end?” said Sen. Verna Jones, D-Baltimore. “I ask you when racism, sexism and blatant discrimination is going to end?” The crowd of about 50 roared approval.
The legislation would extend a 2001 law, which designated 25 percent of state business procurement contracts go to minority businesses. Minorities include African American, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, physically or mentally disabled or other social or economically disadvantaged groups, as well as women. To qualify, the business had to be 51 percent owned and controlled by a member of the minority group.
The legislation was set to expire in July 2006.
But, at the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday, Schaefer questioned the necessity of the program after a tie bid for a state contract went to a minority business.
“When does MBE end, E-N-D?” Schaefer asked.
Instead of supporting the program Ehrlich has backed in the past, including in his State of the State address, he said it would be a difficult goal to achieve because “race politics is real ugly.”
At the news conference, Legislative Black Caucus President Rudolph Cane, D-Wicomico, blamed Ehrlich when asked, who is to blame for the statements made about the MBE.
“I blame the person who was the captain of the ship,” Cane said “He should have corrected the comptroller.”
Since the statements, the governor’s press office has said that the governor is in support of MBE and that a commitment to MBE has never been in jeopardy during his administration.
“The goal of any successful program is to one day reach an end – to one day reach a point where the program isn’t necessary,” said Shareese DeLeaver, the governor’s press secretary.
“As long as racism exists in our state, MBE will exist in this state for some time to come.”
Delegate Emmett Burns, D-Baltimore County, is delighted that the governor’s office is still speaking up for MBE after comments Schaefer and the governor made. “I think they were presumptuous and I’m glad the governor is backtracking,” Burns said.
But Schaefer is not apologetic. He said that it is popular to support anything that has to do with the oppressed and that it is a good political move.
“You are on the side of God if you’re for the MBE,” he said.
In an interview Friday, Schaefer didn’t agree that the MBE program should be extended. Minorities, he said, should not depend on government contracts, but expand to the private sector where they can make more money. Still, he said he believes the legislation will pass because of publicity after his comments.
“Will the law pass? Yes. Will the governor sign it. Yes,” Schaefer said. “Who would vote against it?”