At the heart of Friday's walkout. - Sen. Minority Leader Brown: "This is a defining moment for the relationship bet. Republicans & African-Americans."
Just as the Dean has penned another Dean classic in the preceding post, chalk up another classic and keeper for Baxter & Galloway in today's Political Insider:
At the heart of Friday's walkout
It's too easy to say the past is never truly past. Every now and then, we must decide which past will stay with us — and for how long.
That was at the heart of last Friday's brief walkout by black legislators at the state Capitol. It was one of those startling, intense clashes of culture sure to help us define Georgia politics for the next generation or so.
The topic was a set of bills, one in the Senate and another in the House, to require that a voter present a photo ID before casting a ballot.
Republican heads were concerned about the Florida of November 2000, a time and place of butterfly ballots and razor-thin margins. Black Democrats had the Mississippi of 1960 on their minds — an era of literacy tests and other innocent-looking barriers to the ballot.
GOP lawmakers knew the bills would stir trouble — but not how much. "I didn't anticipate the depth of the emotion," admitted Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon), sponsor of the Senate bill.
"I looked at the current law and the things you can use for voter ID — I mean, you can walk in and vote with a power bill?" he said, not without some exasperation.
But the concern is more than just academic. There is a deep suspicion among many newly empowered Republicans that the voting process in many African-American communities is tainted. How else, many ask in private, to explain U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney?
Examples are hard to come by — voter fraud is a difficult crime to prosecute, Staton said. "But I think we would be putting our heads in the sand if we did not recognize that voter fraud is going on in this state," he said.
African-American lawmakers say the Republicans well understand that voters on society's edges — the ones least likely to carry a driver's license or passport — are disproportionately black.
As the bills passed each chamber Friday, some of the anger expressed by black lawmakers was pure theater. State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), who wrapped himself in shackles as he walked out, owns three car dealerships.
But Sen. Kasim Reed's (D-Atlanta) tears of rage as he spoke from the Senate well were quite real. The normally soft-spoken Atlanta lawyer and many others came close to screaming in frustration at the Republican inability to see that, among many black Georgians, voting is as sacred a ritual as going to church, and should remain just as inviolate.
"It's not part of their life experience, so they don't think about it," said Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus). "I'm just one generation removed. My mother was 40 years old before she could vote."
Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown (D-Macon) predicted that the evening would torpedo the GOP's current effort to woo black voters. "This is a defining moment for the relationship between Republicans and African-Americans," he declared.
Staton said his legislation is simply the finger of history moving on to other business. "This isn't about what happened 40 years ago, or about slavery," he said. "This is about 2005."
Ultimately, whose past is pertinent isn't a matter for the Legislature to decide. Georgia remains subject to the Voting Rights Act, and any change in election law must be approved by the federal government. That's who will decide whose past is truly past.
P.S. You can do what might otherwise be the right thing to do, but you do it in the wrong way or at the wrong time, and it becomes the wrong thing to do.
On Friday GOP lawmakers knew the bills would stir trouble — but not how much. They found out.
The Political Insider notes that since Georgia is one of the states subject to the Voting Rights Act, any change in election law must be approved by the federal government.
My prediction is that this law will pass muster with the U.S. Department of Justice. But it won't matter. GOP lawmakers will have won the battle but will lose the war come 2006 and later, at least in the Empire State of the South.
So let it be written; so let it be done.
The 3-13-05 AJC has an article about how the lingering anger over a vote to require picture IDs at the polls spilled over into a special Saturday session of the Georgia General Assembly, noting that those who walked out on Friday did so because they likened the photo ID requirements to the poll taxes, literacy tests and other obstacles used to suppress black votes. during segregation.
The article also notes that the House leaders have threatened to formally chastise or censure lawmakers who walked out Friday night.
It quotes several lawmakers who to denounced the photo ID requirement as hurting minorities, the poor and elderly who may not have driver's licenses or be close to places that issue official identification, including Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta).
"We passed a bill that will, in effect, disenfranchise people of color — it will disenfranchise people of modest means, it will disenfranchise people who have struggled long and hard to get the right to vote," Fort said. "That is a family value I hope no one can abide by."