Voting Rights Act Turns 50; GOP candidates avert their eyes

AS the Voting Rights Act turns 50, the GOP presidential candidates chatter about trivia and pass up a chance to broaden their base -- maybe fatally.

 

/By Dave Piper/ August 6, 2015 will go down in history as the day when the Republican candidates for President gathered in Cleveland for the first of eleven debates, leading up to the GOP Convention next summer.

Afterwards, the cable news talking heads seemed to be most interested in the perceived “highlights” of the evening, including:

  • Donald Trump’s refusal to pledge his support to the eventual Republican nominee unless, of course, the nominee happens to be him.
  • Moderator Megyn Kelly’s pointed questions to The Donald about his controversial and misogynistic statements about women.
  • The heated back-and-forth between New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul about their contrasting views on civil liberties in the post-911 years.

But what stood out most in my mind is that there was no mention at all by these Republican candidates of the landmark Voting Rights Act that was signed fifty years ago to the day, on August 6, 1965.

This legislation that Lyndon Johnson signed into law was the culmination of years of hard work by brave activists who risked their lives to make sure the Federal Government ensured the right of Americans to choose their representation.

The names of the martyrs who died to ensure that the U.S. Government protected the voting rights of minorities are too many to list. But in the period of February-March 1965 alone, James Reeb, Jimmie Lee Jackson and Viola Liuzzo were among those killed by white supremacists in Alabama because they championed the cause of “One Man, One Vote.”

With the deaths of these martyrs only five decades ago, you would think the leaders of our country would do everything to ensure voting rights for all. But in 2013, the conservative Supreme Court pierced the heart of the VRA when it decided to allow nine states—most of which are in the South—to no longer give the Federal Government advance notice of when they change voting laws.

And Republican politicians want to go further to make it harder for minorities, the poor, students and the elderly to be able to vote via voter ID laws.

Supporters of these voter ID laws claim that it prevents fraud. But the actual number of voter fraud cases is infinitesimal, at best.

Several 2016 Republican hopefuls for President have initiated voter ID laws in their states. In 1999, former Virginia governor and longshot candidate Jim Gilmore tried to initiate a voter ID law in the Commonwealth. His measure was stopped by court order.

But Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is considered among the top tier of GOP candidates, successfully instituted a voter ID law in his state. And that same year, Ohio governor John Kasich—a man who is trying to portray himself as a “Compassionate Conservative”—also pushed through a restrictive voter ID law.

What these politicians don’t seem to realize is that they are dooming their party to lasting presidential election defeat as they continue to pander to an ever-shrinking, rural, white voting population.

At a Republican state committee meeting in spring 2012, Pennsylvania Republican House member Mike Turzai bragged that his state’s newly enacted Voter ID law would help Mitt Romney win the Keystone State that November. But due in part to African Americans and other groups who went to the polls to voice their anger at the law, Barack Obama ended up winning Pennsylvania—a key battleground state.

Ironically, decades from now, as the country becomes browner, it will be whites who will be in the minority—and who would, arguably, stand to benefit from a strong Voting Rights Act.

But looking towards the future is not in the M.O. of the current GOP—a political party that cares only about winning elections and disenfranchising the 99% to serve the needs of the 1%.

There is no denying the fact that President Obama and the Democratic members of Congress who crafted and voted for the 2010 Affordable Care Act knew they were putting their political futures at risk. But they had the courage to sacrifice their political futures to make our country better for all Americans—including Republicans—so that everyone could gain better access to affordable healthcare.

In 1965, Republicans joined with Democrats to bring about the Voting Rights Act that Johnson signed into law.

That was before the GOP only cared about winning elections.

Today’s GOP presidential hopefuls had best remember this fact, or they are dooming their party to follow in the footsteps of the Whigs.