Jay Dickey offers clarification for comment on black farmers

Associated Press Writer
Published Sunday, January 16, 2000

PINE BLUFF -- U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey on Friday stood by his controversial remarks to black farmers but tried to explain what he meant.

The farmers had asked Dickey, R-Ark., for help getting payments from a discrimination settlement with the federal government. Dickey, R-Ark., told the farmers at a Jan. 8 meeting that it would be politically difficult to rally support for them in Washington.

Democrats attacked Dickey, accusing him of failing to represent his entire district.

With 15 supporters standing with him at a news conference at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, Dickey said it was unfortunate that he was misunderstood but did not back off from his comments.

"None of this would've occurred if I hadn't made statements that some say were politically incorrect last Saturday. So I'm really the culprit, have been such in the past and as long as I continue just to be myself, will probably do so in the future," he said.

He said he wanted the 100 members of the Black Farmers Association to understand that if it endorses one of his Democrat opponents in the 4th District Congressional race, it will be hard for him to work for their cause in Washington. He noted the group had not supported him in the past.

The topic at the Jan. 8 farmers meeting was a discrimination lawsuit farmers against the U.S Department of Agriculture, and lagging federal payments in the settlement.

A lead attorney for the farmers group has said that Dickey's critics are off base.

"In my opinion, it was taken out of context and has been blown out of proportion," said Othello Cross, a Pine Bluff attorney representing 2,200 black farmers in Arkansas in the suit. "He was giving them a history of the political process in Washington, D.C., in the form of a parable."

Dickey said he would continue to try to help the farmers but said he tried to illustrate for them the political difficulty posed by a request for help from his perceived opponents.

He said he had read that a black political group decided to support a prospective Democratic rival in the November general election. So during the Jan. 8 meeting, Dickey produced a folded photocopy of a newspaper article quoting members of the group.

Black Farmers Association head Fernando Burkett said Dickey confused the group with another black group. He said the farmers group has not made an endorsement.

But he said its members will continue to work with Dickey because it's important to get the settlement money. The class-action lawsuit, which was settled nearly a year ago, awards a tax-free cash settlement of $50,000 and forgiveness of federal debts.

"We need assistance. We've been hurt for a long time," he said.

Dickey said he has sponsored legislation to assist black farmers in having their claims paid. He was the only member of Congress at the meeting.

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