Thursday, October 08, 2015

Sweet Home Alabama - Republicans Drive Over Voter Rights

A state drivers license center in Alabama
The restrictive voter ID law passed in 2011 by the the conservative Republican politicians who now dominate the Alabama state legislature didn't take affect until 2014.

But it only took a year for them to take another swipe at the voting rights of Alabama citizens; those who vote Democratic anyway.

In another low point for the basic principle of American democracy, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency ( the result of a consolidation of 12 different law enforcement agencies under a single authority now known under the acronym ALEA) announced that budget shortfalls would require the closing of an astounding 31 different driver's license centers around the state.

Republicans, including Governor Robert Bentley (we'll get to him in a moment) were quick to deny accusations leveled by politicians, members of the press, voter rights groups and citizens that the closing of these centers were part of an underhanded effort to put up barriers that make it more difficult for citizens of Alabama to comply with the voter ID law that Republicans themselves drafted and passed in 2011.

But statistics suggest otherwise.

As Rachel Witkin wrote in an article posted on on Monday,
8 of the 10 counties where the drivers license facilities are being closed just happen to have the largest percentages of non-white voters in the state.

Driver's license centers in every county in the state of Alabama where more than 75% of registered voters are African-American will be closed.

Coincidence? Hardly.

First off, Alabama is one of many American states with a solid "super majority" of Republican state legislators dominating the state house; as well as a Republican Governor.

Since it's the Republican party who are essentially responsible for establishing the budget for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (which runs the driver's license centers across the state); Republicans are the ones responsible for the apparent lack of available funds to keep the centers open.

Oct 2013, Ted Cruz & Sarah Palin protest WWII memorial closing THEY caused 
That kind of  manipulative legislative nonsense is taken right from the playbook of the senseless Republican "starve the beast" strategy of governing.

And the illogical political spin, where they childishly blame Democrats for their own Republican handiwork, is hardly new for them either.

It's the same kind of demented GOP thinking that led Republicans Senator Ted Cruz and former VP candidate Sarah Palin to fan the flames of conservative hysteria which lead to an intentional shut down of the federal government in 2013.

Once they'd accomplished their demented goal, they had the gall to actually go and stand theatrically in front of the WWII Veteran's memorial in Washington, DC and piously criticize Democrats for not keeping the national parks open (pictured left).

Is it a total PR nightmare that contributes to the Republican's dismal approval rate? Sure, but they still do it.

And then they have the temerity to act offended by people who call their actions out for what they are by dismissing them as nosy outsiders trying to politicize an issue for personal gain.
Since the news about the closing of the driver's license centers has been so dominated by national media news outlets lately, I was genuinely curious to see what people who actually live in Alabama had to say on the issue.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley
To gain some perspective, I decided to troll through some of the over 522 reader comments that were posted in response to a story posted on the Website by Charles Dean about Republican Governor Robert Bentley (pictured left) strongly denying accusations that the decision to close 31 different state-run facilities where (mostly) people of modest income who reside in more remote rural areas can obtain driver's licenses, was not a race-based decision intentionally designed to make it more difficult for people of color to get ID's to vote.

Interestingly, the reader comments seemed to break down along just about the same political lines as national reactions to the story; but there seemed to be blacks and whites on both sides of the issue.

There were white Alabamans who thought the closing of the centers were clearly race-based, and there were also black Alabamans who pointed out the relatively low state voter turnout (under 50%) in the last election to point out that if you really want to vote in the state, you just have to register to do it.

Someone who claimed to be black pointed out the fact that there are large numbers of black folks in the state who have valid state ID's to cross state lines to gamble in Mississippi or Louisiana or buy alcohol legally.  

Some white Alabamans felt it was only being made into a national issue because Alabama's legacy of racism and political correctness make it easy to accuse the state of such racial shenanigans.

More than one reader expressed skepticism over the fact that Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson have both inserted themselves into the controversy - for what some readers felt were for self-serving reasons rather than the issue of voter rights.

But as you may have guessed, I'm just not buying that.

Nov 5, 2012 - Voters in Akron, Ohio wait hours for early voting
Especially given the Republican party's openly passing dozens of sketchy voter ID laws in states like Ohio (pictured left), North Carolina and Florida - and other ALEC-crafted legislation that intentionally restricts the rights of the poor, racial minorities, working class, students, legal immigrants and the elderly to cast their votes in elections.

As the article reported, the state's embattled Governor, Robert Bentley offered up some fairly sketchy reasoning for the closures of the 31 driver's license centers during a press conference on Tuesday when he said:

"The last time I looked, 16-year-olds that get their license at a driver's licenses place, don't vote," said Bentley. "That's all we're doing. We're repositioning people in the state because we don't have enough funds in this state to keep these offices open." 

"Repositioning people"? He and his Republican cohorts in the state legislature are the ones who control the funds that keep the drivers license centers open in the first place!

Now just bear in mind folks, this statement is from the same Governor who self-righteously opposed gay marriage on the grounds that  heterosexual marriages like his represent 'Stability' before his wife of 50 years, Dianne Bentley, filed for divorce back in August

Bentley has also had his toes in hot water over race recently, after what many perceived as insensitive comments insinuating common simplistic stereotypes about the black family structure were to blame for the horrific kidnapping and murder of 8-year old Hiawayi Robinson.

Governor Bentley took particular issue with Hillary Clinton weighing in on the issue of his party actively suppressing the rights of minority voters in Alabama, saying:

"The one that I'm really angry about is Hilliary Clinton. You know Hillary Clinton never lets the facts get in the way of a good political sound bite and that's exactly what she has done criticizing the state of Alabama,"  

Hillary Clinton wasn't afraid to call a spade a spade; she called the decision to close the centers in Alabama  "a blast from the Jim Crow past."

And her criticism of Alabama's closing 31 drivers license centers isn't her first time calling out Republicans for suppressing votes.

Bentley's insinuation that she just started chiming in on the issue after Alabama's latest voter suppression efforts earned national attention for a "soundbite" is plain wrong.

Guess who vetoed state legislation to add early voting hours?
Say what you want about her, Hillary has been attacking Republican presidential candidates for suppressing voter rights for months.

The "Truth-o-Meter" of the Pulitzer Prize-wining Website fact-checked Clinton's claims of Republican voter suppression by Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rick Perry and Scott Walker.

They found them to be "largely accurate" and rated her claims, "Mostly True."

Why? Because the reality is that actively using legislation, illegal redistricting, gerrymandering and even voter intimidation are now part of the accepted (by Republicans anyway) strategy for winning the White House in 2016 and holding on to a majority in the House and Senate.

It's disgraceful and a mockery of everything this nation stands for, but that's today's Republican party for you.

But the closings of the 31 centers is far from a done deal. Politicians and activists groups including the NAACP are calling for legal challenges to the closings as well as a Department of Justice investigation.

If you were curious about what would happen after the Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the Civil Rights Act, look no further than the state of Alabama.

"Sweet Home" indeed.

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