John McCain is in Memphis today commemorating the death of Dr. King, but he can't run from his spotty history on the MLK holiday and civil rights. In 1983, McCain was one of 77 Republican Congressmen to vote against establishing a federal holiday in MLK's honor. McCain was in the minority even among his GOP colleagues: even Dick Cheney, who voted against the holiday in 1978, voted for it in '83. Later, McCain would explain his vote by saying he "thought that it was not necessary to have another federal holiday, that it cost too much money, that other presidents were not recognized."
In 1999 McCain admitted that he was wrong to vote the way he did. He told NBC's Tim Russert, "on the Martin Luther King issue, we all learn, OK? We all learn. I will admit to learning, and I hope that the people that I represent appreciate that, too. I voted in 1983 against the recognition of Martin Luther King
I regret that vote."
The 1983 vote, however, is the not the end of the issue. In 1987, Arizona's Republican Governor repealed the state's recognition of King; McCain supported the decision. He changed his mind in 1990, when a King holiday was put to a vote in the state.
But even by 1990, McCain hadn't come to appreciate what King stood for. The Civil Rights Act of 1990 sought to overturn "Supreme Court rulings that made it much more difficult for individual employees to prove discrimination." The legislation was fought by big business, because it imposed new penalties on employers convicted of job discrimination. McCain voted against the act four times.
And in his 2000 presidential campaign, McCain employed a man named Richard Quinn in his South Carolina organization. Quinn was a toxic figure, writing: