What Pulaski County, Arkansas, Tells Us About The GOP And The Press

On the surface, it seems like such a small controversy.

In Arkansas, last Tuesday, there was a special election in Pulaski County. The issue was whether the public would approve a tax increase to fund Pulaski Technical College, the state’s largest two-year school. It’s the kind of election that has much to say about local communities and what kind of places they are (for the record, the tax increase lost by a 3-1 margin). But this election, and the controversy attached to it, has much to say about the Republican Party, not only in Arkansas, but across the country. You see, what happened last week is the direct result of the profound fear conservatives have of democracy, of the people. As Think Progress reported:

In 2013, the Arkansas legislature enacted a voter ID law containing a provision requiring absentee voters to include a copy of their ID along with their ballot. The result, according to a statement Pulaski County Election Commissioner Chris Burks gave to the Arkansas Times, is that 76 of the 384 absentee ballots cast in last Tuesday’s election were not counted. Burks added that, “[i]n my opinion, those absentee ballots returned without ID were 76 real people’s votes that would have otherwise counted but for the sloppily drafted Voter ID bill.”

That sloppily drafted Voter ID bill, which robbed some people of their fundamental right to speak in an election, was vetoed by Arkansas’ Democratic Governor Mike Beebe. Republicans, firmly in control of the Arkansas legislature, if not their American senses, overrode the governor’s veto, claiming, as they do all over the country where this anti-democratic spirit thrives, that the law would prevent the non-existent problem of “voter fraud.”

Of course, the only fraud going on is the notion that Republicans give a damn about free and fair elections. They don’t. What they care about is winning elections without appealing to a wide swath of the electorate. And it is an absolute fact that the more people there are who participate in elections, the less likely it is that Republicans will win them. Thus, it is not a scandal in the Republican Party to disenfranchise as many voters as possible, particularly voters who might vote for Democrats. Disenfranchising potentially Democratic voters is the only way Republicans can survive in the short term, as the deadly combination of Tea Party dominance of the party and changing demographics doom the future prospects of the GOP as it is now constituted.

But we Democrats know all that. What we don’t know is this: Why has the mainstream press largely ignored the anti-democratic spirit that now animates the Republican Party? Why isn’t it front-page news that Republicans all over the nation are essentially trying to change the outcomes of elections by making it harder for people to vote? And why don’t those 76 voters in Pulaski County, Arkansas, whose vote didn’t count last week, have their faces on the evening news?

john lewis

“They That Sow The Wind Shall Reap The Whirlwind.”

I must share with you, those who don’t read through the comment section of this blog, a remarkable post by Henry “Bud” Morgan, a retired (and by all accounts superb) English professor who taught at Missouri Southern State University. And although he probably doesn’t know it, my daughter was one of his students (that’s how I know how good he was).

Mr. Morgan took the time to offer the following, in response to my piece on the Republican’s “war on voting” :

Duane:

I seems to me that the most tragic element of this voter suppression scheme is that the very people who are being most suppressed are the ones who paid perhaps the highest price to gain that vote. The Freedom Riders, the Edmund Petttus Bridge survivors, the three college students murdered in Mississippi in 1963, the numerous nameless elderly men and women who put on their finest garb to go and march in a protest when they knew in advance that they were going to be beaten severely by local thugs and willing cops, and all the others who were willing to put their bodies and lives on the line to gain the right that should have been theirs automatically, these are the very targets of the modern-day suppressors.

That American citizens ever had to fight for the right to vote should shame all of us; that they are now having to do it twice should make us question our values and our “loyalty” to this nation. In the Alabama of my youth, where voting required a poll tax, a literacy test, and a “voucher,” an already registered voter who would vouch that the person seeking registration was who he said he was, was the age he claimed, and lived where he said he did. The absence of already-registered Black voters presented a major hurdle for would-be black voters. When two of my black friends, vets like me, asked me to be their voucher, I agreed. The “literacy” they were required to take involved reading and interpreting an obscure section of the Alabama Statutes. When they both failed the test, one of them said, “Yeah, I know what that statute meant. It meant ‘Ain’t no nigger gonna vote in Alabama.’”

In 1964, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, it was the crowning achievement of brave and resolute people who had put all on the line. That a group of American citizens in 2012 is trying to reverse that Law is disgraceful, shameful, and a blight upon the nation.

“They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

Henry

The only thing I can add to that is the following speech given by an American hero, John Lewis, at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.  Lewis was one of the original “Freedom Riders” that Henry mentioned, and now he serves the people of Georgia’s 5th district in the U.S. House of Representatives (that gives me chills to write).

Please take the time to watch this speech, which brought me to tears when I saw it this summer. There aren’t many heroes of America’s Civil Rights Movement left for us to appreciate in real time:

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