Ballot Box

The Agenda of Al Sharpton

What he’d do as president.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. This series outlines what each candidate would do as president. Candidates take positions on many issues, but once in the White House, a president tends to focus on the few issues he or she really cares about. The purpose of this series is to identify those issues and clarify how the candidate, as president, would address them. Today’s subject is Al Sharpton.

1. Amend the Constitution to guarantee “a public education of equal high quality.” Sharpton believes locally controlled schools are fundamentally unequal. To remedy this, he would essentially federalize public education. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., has proposed a constitutional amendment to this effect. Once such an amendment was ratified, it would be up to Congress to enact legislation fulfilling it.

2. Amend the Constitution to standardize and facilitate voting. Currently, each state government decides what role, if any, the votes of its citizens will play in choosing that state’s delegates to the Electoral College. If George W. Bush had lost Bush v. Gore in 2000, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature was ready to send pro-Bush electors regardless of which candidate got more votes in Florida. Sharpton would seek a constitutional amendment to ensure that this could never happen. The amendment, another Jackson brainchild, would require electors to support the winner of their state’s popular vote. It would make voting an explicit constitutional right and would oblige Congress to create election standards subject to review every four years. It would also require states to let people register, as well as vote, on Election Day.

3. Make the District of Columbia the 51st state. To recognize “New Columbia,” Sharpton would need majorities in both the House and Senate. If, in a (hypothetically) 50-50 Senate, he managed to enact a statehood bill with the support of all Democratic senators and the vice president, the resulting two senators from New Columbia would almost certainly give Democrats a 52-50 advantage. Sharpton would retain federal control of the Capitol, the Mall, and other important federal areas and buildings.