[Hutchinson] Republicans Rip the Voting Rights Act | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Hutchinson] Republicans Rip the Voting Rights Act

In 1980, Ronald Reagan told biographer Laurence Barrett that the 1965 Voting Rights Act was "humiliating to the South." The carefully handpicked, emotionally charged words from then GOP Republican presidential candidate aimed to tap into the fury of white Southerners over civil rights, and, of course, garner their votes.

Two years later, then Assistant Attorney General John Roberts (now Supreme Court chief justice) sent a tidal wave of memos imploring President Reagan to reject a 25-year extension of the act. A hesitant Reagan approved the extension anyway.

Reagan did not want to buck Democrats and civil rights leaders who still had clout in Congress and favorable public sentiment. The last thing Reagan wanted was to be tagged a bigot and an enemy of voting rights.

But candidate Reagan's soothing words to the South, and Robert's stern opposition, were huge signals that many Republicans were at best ambivalent, and at worst, openly hostile to the act.

That hasn't changed. President Bush has twice said that he would sign legislation that would extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act when it expires in 2007, and nearly every Republican senator and representative publicly swore they'd back extension.

Yet, all it took to derail House approval was a loud complaint from a handful of Republican representatives who said that bilingual ballots should be dumped and that the act unfairly punishes Southern states for voter discrimination.

That may also be enough to derail a vote in the Senate on the act. Before the Republicans objected, the Senate Judiciary Committee had scheduled a vote on extension of the act the last week of June. Voting rights supporters considered the vote a slam-dunk, but not now.

The delay was probably inevitable, not because Bush and Republicans want to kill voting rights, as many civil rights leaders and black Democrats claim, but because it's smart, partisan politics to stall. The clumsy effort to tie renewal to English-only sentiment was a cover.

The real aim of Republicans is to appease conservative white voters in the South, just as candidate Reagan did.

Republicans took their cue from the old Southern Dixiecrats. For decades, they screamed that the act was unlawful federal intrusion and violated states rights. But racist Democrats weren't the biggest obstacle to the act's initial passage. House Republicans were.

Gerald Ford, who was then Republican minority leader, proposed four provisions that would have weakened the bill. One preposterous Republican gambit would have actually eliminated a provision requiring the federal courts to approve all voting rights laws passed by Southern states.

With President Lyndon Johnson pounding away, and the stench of tear gas still in the nation's nostrils from the 1965 attack by Alabama state police on civil rights marchers at Selma, Republican House leaders relented and scrapped the watered-down provisions.

But that didn't end the fight to protect voting rights. Republican Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr. carefully crafted and fine-tuned the Republicans' Southern strategy. The goal was to win elections by doing and saying as little as possible about civil rights, while openly and subtly pandering to Southern white fears of black political domination.

The loss of one or more states to the Democrats in the 2006 midterm election and 2008 presidential election could spell political disaster for the GOP.

The key, as every Republican president since Nixon has known, is to maintain near-solid backing from white Southern males. They have been the staunchest Republican loyalists. Bush grabbed more than 60 percent of the white male vote nationally in 2004. In the South, he got more than 70 percent of their vote.

Without the South's unyielding backing in 2000, Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore would have easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would have been a meaningless sideshow. In 2004, Bush swept Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in every one of the states of the Old Confederacy and three out of four of the border states. That insured another Bush White House.

Bush, top Republicans and even the GOP obstructionists who temporarily derail the act's extension don't want to roll back the clock to the Jim Crow days when the South concocted a vast array of literacy tests, poll taxes, informal voting codes and whites-only primaries to boot blacks en masse out of the voting booths.

But more than a few Republicans do want to send the message that they'll fight any threat to Republican rule in the South, even if that means messing around with the Voting Rights Act.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press). The Hutchinson Report Blog is now online at Earl Ofari Hutchinson.com. This piece originally appeared in the Pasadena Weekly.

Previous Comments

ID
73105
Comment

I can't wait to see what the Republicans do about this. Will they do one thing and say another one as it their practice. How open are we to more bull. We shall see.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-07-06T14:17:51-06:00
ID
73106
Comment

Well, here's a good chance to prove the southern strategy is no longer. As our new council presidente likes to say, "If it walks like a duck ..."

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-07-06T14:21:17-06:00
ID
73107
Comment

It doesn't surprise me that the Republicans don't want to extend the Voting Rights Act. If you haven't figured it out, the Republicans like to run on wedge issues that divide us. With the VRA, you have race involved. Case closed.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2006-07-06T14:45:18-06:00
ID
73108
Comment

The debate in the Senate is now being framed as "no strict civil rights supervision for the South, that's not necessary anymore." This in the immediate wake of a Supreme Court ruling determining that Texas redrew one district specifically to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. This in the wake of a disastrous 2000 election in Florida. The motives here aren't necessarily grounded in racial segregation for their own sake. Any policy that keeps black and Hispanic voters away from the polls benefits Republicans, and can make the difference between a victory and a defeat. If given the opportunity to disenfranchise minority voters in the South, most Republican leaders will happily take it. Which tells us that the Republican lock on the South might not be quite as solid as the talking heads would have us believe... Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-07-06T14:47:35-06:00
ID
73109
Comment

I fear one semi-valid point in all this will get overlooked: Only nine states get this federal oversight; the other 41 don't.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-07-06T15:21:27-06:00
ID
73110
Comment

And why would that be?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-07-06T15:23:14-06:00
ID
73111
Comment

Yes, why would that be?

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-07-06T15:27:58-06:00
ID
73112
Comment

Well, I think the implication is that if it's good enough for us in the unreformed Nine, why isn't everyone else subject to it? After all, a Civil Rights Violation doesn't happen only in Mississippi. Otherwise? Pfui, It'll pass after the republicans make an ass of themselves and derail their Nov 2006 chances.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-07-06T15:29:38-06:00
ID
73113
Comment

The unreformed Nine made their beds. No one worked as hard as them to make it either. And many, like you, believe they're unreformed, and without any intentions of ever really doing so.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-07-06T16:49:32-06:00
ID
73114
Comment

I think a better approach would be to threaten all 50 states with Federal Oversight at the slightest hint of judical redistricting nonsense. I'd include legislative as well, but I know political parties want to keep gerrymandering legal.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-07-07T16:01:19-06:00
ID
73115
Comment

VRA should apply to all states. In my opinion, it violates the equal protection clause and should thus apply equally to all 50 states.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-07-07T16:13:18-06:00
ID
73116
Comment

That's just like the south - don't want to pay adequately for its past racism. When lying won't do, the pretending starts. What's next. No wonder there is so little respect.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-07-07T16:17:03-06:00
ID
73117
Comment

who you were addressing that post to Ray? do you have a problem with the law applying to all states?

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-07-07T16:19:52-06:00
ID
73118
Comment

I'm all for letting the law apply to all states equally if all states treat and have treated voters the same. Mississippi and those other states duly earned all the wrath they're receiving. When it can be independently proven they have corrected past indiscretions then and only then should they be relieved of oversight and the image of being racist. Our representatives and senators saying corrections have been made doesn't provide any proof an intelligent person should accept.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-07-07T16:32:34-06:00
ID
73119
Comment

ok. fair point ray, here is a fair question: what is the standard for showing things have been sufficiently remedied?

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-07-07T16:36:16-06:00
ID
73120
Comment

I don't know, Jimmy; but I trust the DOJ does. If they say the past has been remedies here in Mississippi, I will accept it.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-07-07T16:39:11-06:00
ID
73121
Comment

See, the real problem is there's a big difference on wether or not some states have "paid for" their crimes sufficently. Some say yes, others say no. The VRA wouldn't be found in violation of the Equal Rights clause of the Constiution. The reasoning would be that the VRA is designed to ensure Equal Rights, and therefore legal.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-07-07T17:09:28-06:00
ID
73122
Comment

According to Wikipedia, Palm Beach County, FL is not covered either - neither is the state of Florida itself (yes, the VRA can apply only to certain sub-state areas too). Neither is any place in Illinois (The Chicago area is not exactly known for it's racial harmony either - note well this is not two wrongs make a right. The issue is the presence of institutional racism regardless of the locale's history) BTW, certain NYC boroughs, a few counties in FL and CA, and the entire state of Alaska (just to name a few) are under VRA orders too - so at least be glad they aren't singling out ONLY The South. Having said that, I do think the very least the DoJ needs to do is step up its monitoring of other areas of the country to see if they adhere to the same standards it imposes on the other states and locales. Certainly, given the accusations of voter purges, I think Palm Beach County, FL needs to be added - if no other place.

Author
Philip
Date
2006-07-07T17:31:15-06:00

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