Today’s Austin American-Statesman editorial page features my commentary on the attack by Republicans on our voting rights, as the Texas Voter ID Law goes to trial. On the same page in the paper is a rebuttal by Attorney General Greg Abbott that is filled with holes and spurious arguments. It is not surprising that the Texas Republican Party’s 2012 platform calls for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act. Below is my op-ed. I hope you’ll read both pieces and join the conversation.
[ONE MORE THING: Don't forget about President Obama's visit to Austin on July 17, at the Austin Music Hall with Jerry Jeff Walker. Tickets are going fast and begin at $250. If you are interested in purchasing a ticket, please call 477-7500, or respond to this email with your full name and phone number, and we'll send you details. Now, here's the op-ed:]
Henry B. Gonzalez, the first Hispanic man elected to the U.S. Congress from Texas, was sworn in to office in 1962 clutching a proposed bill that would end the voter-suppression poll tax. Three years later, his plan was incorporated into the Voting Rights Act.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is using millions of state dollars, at a time when we are struggling to fund education, to undo Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
What would LBJ say to Greg Abbott?
Abbott’s goal is to implement the chilling Texas Voter ID Law, which was denied pre-clearance by the Department of Justice, at any cost.
His strategy is to claim that Section 5 is unconstitutional. The trial in federal court in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to begin today, and it promises to be long and expensive.
One can’t help but wonder what LBJ, a proud Texan, would think of the ongoing attempts by Republicans — and increasingly by Republicans from his home state — to overturn these civil rights victories.
LBJ was dedicated to the fight for civil rights, and the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act were the defining victories of his presidency.
LBJ would no doubt recognize that the state is using taxpayers’ money and the valuable time of elected officials to conduct political maneuvers that are regressive. Filing lawsuits against the federal government (24 of them, so far) has become a near-obsession of Abbott and friends.
Often these increasingly heated state versus federal wars overshadow the fundamental issues at hand.
In the case of challenges to the Voting Rights Act, perhaps we should stop to think about the importance of accessible voting to the very existence of our democracy.
Johnson understood that we should make voting easier for everyone, not more restrictive, and he worked hard to make that happen.
The Voting Rights Act prohibits any state from imposing discriminatory practices. The law also established federal oversight of elections and, in Section 5, said that states with a history of discriminatory voting practices, cannot change voting laws without “pre-clearance,” a process to ensure the constitutional rights of minorities are protected. The act has been renewed four times, most recently by President George W. Bush in 2006.
What would George W. Bush say to Greg Abbott?
Increasingly, some Republicans, especially those of the tea party persuasion, have argued that Section 5 is an abuse of federal authority and that the states for which the pre-clearance process was created no longer practice discrimination.
Evidence is abundant to the contrary. The passage by the Texas Legislature of the voter ID law, citing the mostly fictitious problem of voter fraud, will disproportionately affect minority voters — people who historically tend to vote Democratic. Voting is a constitutional right, not a choice like driving a car or boarding an airplane, and the photo ID requirement would thwart participation by the poor and the elderly. Nearly one in five Texans over the age of 65 have no government-issued ID. We evolved past poll taxes and literacy tests, but now we face new limits.
The Legislature’s partisan redistricting maps, which sliced up Democratic-voting Travis County into five congressional districts and ignored the dramatic increase in our state’s Latino population, also will affect voting participation by minorities throughout the state. Abbott has filed multiple lawsuits in these cases, too.
Clearly, we still need the protections created by the Voting Rights Act. The problems LBJ signed the legislation to correct more than four decades ago have not disappeared. And yet Abbott seeks to takes us back in time. He has referred to states’ rights as “the biggest issue of our time.” Really? Not rising poverty or Texas’ sagging education standards or the cutbacks in health care?
What would you say to Greg Abbott?
Travis County Democratic Party Chair
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