© 2022 Louisville Public Media

Public Files:
89.3 WFPL · 90.5 WUOL-FM · 91.9 WFPK

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact info@lpm.org or call 502-814-6500
89.3 WFPL News | 90.5 WUOL Classical 91.9 WFPK Music | KyCIR Investigations
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Is Mitch McConnell’s Civil Rights Record Really ‘Nuanced?'


U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s civil rights record is “nuanced, sometimes surprising, sometimes contentious” and "sets him apart" from his Republican colleagues and some Kentucky voters, according to a New York Times profile published on Friday.

But a civil rights activist in Louisville said he's a bit surprised by this conclusion about Kentucky's senior senator.

The Louisville NAACP chapter has given McConnell “F’s” in its civil rights legislative score card for years, said Raoul Cunningham, the chapter's president.

"This article paints Senator McConnell as pro civil rights,” Cunningham told WFPL News. “His voting record does not reflect that.”

Cunningham concedes, though, that on occasion McConnell "has voted right on” civil rights issues in the past.

The most recent example was McConnell's recent vote in support of the nomination of Loretta Lynch for U.S. attorney general; she became the first black woman to hold the post. Kentucky's other senator, Rand Paul, voted against the nomination. McConnell also called on state lawmakers to remove the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from Kentucky's state Capitol in Frankfort.

Those are just the recent examples. According to the Times,
  … In 1986, Mr. McConnell was among 31 Senate Republicans who voted to override President Reagan’s veto of legislation imposing stiff economic sanctions on South Africa. At the time, he said of Mr. Reagan: “I think he is wrong. We have waited long enough for him to come on board.” In 2002, Mr. McConnell was one of the principal authors, with Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, of the  Help America Vote Act, which helped modernize state voting systems after the debacle of the 2000 presidential election. “Because of that act,” Mr. Dodd said in an interview, “millions more people in this country can vote now,” he said, referring to the malfunctioning voting systems that were replaced because of the legislation, many of them in minority communities. “And a big reason was Mitch McConnell.”
But more recently, McConnell joins Republicans in opposition to efforts to beef up the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court struck down a part of it last year.

Because McConnell has been a deft politician, it’s almost a given his civil rights record won’t be perfect, said Dewey Clayton, a political science professor for the University of Louisville.

“You know he represents a state that’s largely conservative—particularly in national politics,” Clayton said.

“I think that over the years as the state has become more conservative, he has moved to be conservative with them.”