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Bill Straub: McConnell’s meandering principles reveal his game-playing; Larry Forgy will be missed

In his self-congratulatory treatise, The Long Game, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, goes on at some length explaining why, as a Republican in 1964, he voted against the party’s presidential nominee, Sen. Barry Goldwater, in favor of the incumbent Democrat, President Lyndon B. Johnson.

McConnell explained he was “horrified” that a man he described as one of his political heroes had come down on the wrong side of history, opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“To say that I was extremely disappointed that Goldwater voted against the civil rights bill doesn’t nearly capture how upset I was,” McConnell wrote.

That vote, McConnell added, “came to inaccurately define the party’s strong position on civil rights – which would continue to hurt our party for decades.”

Now fast-forward to 2022 where we find legislation pending in the Senate to restore a vital provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, struck down by the Supreme Court, known as pre-clearance, which required nine states, mostly in the South, to receive advance federal Justice Department approval before implementing any changes in their voting laws.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Those nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia – had over the years created barriers that made it difficult, impossible in most cases, for African-Americans to exercise the franchise.

That section, along with the rest of the Voting Rights Act, was unanimously reauthorized by the Senate in 2006. McConnell was one of those voting aye. But pre-clearance was stricken by the high court, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts in 2013, rationalizing that the measure was based on out-of-date data.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late congressman and historic civil rights leader, was offered to reinstate pre-clearance based on updated information intended to address the Supreme Court’s concern. The new formula invokes pre-clearance on those states with 15 or more voting rights violations during the past 25 years, and those with 10 or more violations if at least one was committed by the state itself.

The new procedure would affect 11 states — Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

This proposal is connected but not linked to another piece of legislation to enhance voting opportunities, the Freedom to Vote Act, which sets minimal standards for running elections nationwide. It is another worthy measure to be addressed at another time. As for the John Lewis bill, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights noted that evidence gathered by a House subcommittee revealed “continuing and persistent discrimination” regarding voting in some jurisdictions.

“The oversight hearings found that a second generation of discrimination has emerged that serves to abridge or deny minorities their equal voting rights,” the conference said in a statement. “Jurisdictions continue to attempt to implement discriminatory electoral procedures on matters such as methods of election, annexations, and polling place changes, as well as through redistricting conducted with the purpose or the effect of denying minorities equal access to the political process. Likewise, the oversight hearings demonstrated that citizens are often denied access to VRA-mandated language assistance and, as a result, the opportunity to cast an informed ballot.”

McConnell, who fancies himself a civil rights champion even though he opposes most legislation to advance the cause, actually voted to support the Voting Rights Act twice, supporting amendments in 1992 and reauthorization in 2006. Now, like Goldwater in ’64, he stands against history.

The GOP leader is not only opposing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, he is keeping the Senate from even debating it, opting to filibuster a measure that was included in what the Justice Department has deemed the most successful civil rights law in American history.

“This is not a federal issue,” McConnell said during a press briefing on Tuesday. “It ought to be left to the states. There’s nothing broken around the country. The system upheld very well during an intense stress during the latter part of the previous Congress. There’s no rational basis for federalizing this election and, therefore, there’s no point in having a debate in the U.S. Senate about something we ought not do.”

The idea that election laws are the purview of the states is ludicrous on its face given the 15th Amendment. But McConnell in the past has gone even further, stating that the pre-clearance provision he has voted for in the past is “unnecessary” and that any attempt to advance the measure is a simple power grab on behalf of Democrats.

Only one Republican member of the Senate, Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, has voiced support for the John Lewis bill, meaning the chances of attracting the 60 votes necessary in the 100-member chamber are more than remote, given the 50-50 partisan split that currently exists.

That reality has led some on the Democratic side to support a change in the filibuster rule — which has no constitutional basis — at least as it pertains to voting rights issues. McConnell, who opposes filibuster carve-outs in any way, shape, or form unless it coincides with his purposes – like changing the rules to assure Supreme Court nominees don’t face the 60-vote requirement – is throwing a fit over the idea.

“If Democrats blow up Senate rules, millions of Americans will cease to have a voice in the Senate,” McConnell fumed. “Entire states would be shut out. Top Dems have floated breaking the rules for years now. This isn’t about new voting laws. It’s about silencing voters who inconvenience Democrats.”

“No party that would trash the Senate’s legislative traditions can be trusted to seize control over election laws across America,” McConnell said in a statement on Wednesday. “Nobody who is this desperate to take over our democracy on a one-party basis can be allowed to do it.”

All of which demonstrates just what an amazing character Addison Mitchell McConnell really is. He votes for pre-clearance and then turns around a few years later maintaining a similar proposal is not only unnecessary but it is “not a federal issue.”

If the concept was a federal issue in 2006, what has changed to render it a non-federal issue now?

This whole idea that Congress should keep its hands off election law, leaving it up to the states is, frankly, insane. It was the Voting Rights Act, when amended in 1970, that banned literacy tests. The 24th Amendment, adopted by both houses of Congress and ratified in 1964, prohibits Congress and the 50 states from conditioning the right to vote on payment of a poll tax. Federal law further prohibits voter intimidation.

Meanwhile, under McConnell’s philosophy, states like Georgia and Texas, now free to run roughshod, are rendering it more difficult to vote, especially for African-Americans.

And how in the world can the man keep a straight face when he accuses Democrats of “trash(ing) the Senate’s legislative traditions,” after he has abused the filibuster time after time to block legislation and adopted a whole new standard for judicial appointments, including nominated to the Supreme Court?

What’s more, the filibuster, as it is used under McConnell, is disenfranchising millions upon millions of Americans, many more than will ever be affected by blowing up the outdated rule altogether. Why don’t they count in McConnell’s calculations?

Because black folks vote, that’s why, and McConnell and fellow Republicans are working overtime to make sure the right of African-Americans to cast a ballot doesn’t come easily since most of them will benefit Democratic candidates.

President Biden finally called them on it early this week, much to McConnell’s consternation. Biden used a speech in Georgia to link opponents of the pro-voting bills to folks like Bull Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, AL, in the sixties, who turned vicious dogs and high-powered hoses on demonstrators seeking equal rights and the right to vote.

Mitch was infuriated by the president’s remarks that, apparently, hit a little too close to home, harrumphing on the Senate floor, that “The president’s rant yesterday was incoherent, incorrect, and beneath his office.”

Oh please. This from a guy who never disputed anything Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald J. Trump, said regardless of how racist or misogynistic or obscene it might have been.

Regardless, McConnell doesn’t appear “horrified” over the measures he’s taking that puts him in league with Goldwater’s vote on the Civil Rights Act. And he doesn’t appear “extremely disappointed” in his own disgusting actions.

And he’s provably wrong – his actions show that the Republican Party’s actions on civil rights were properly displayed after all.

So, if Mitch was standing next to Bull Connor on a Birmingham street corner could you tell the two of them apart?

Larry Forgy

Larry Forgy

Very sorry to hear about the death of Larry Forgy, who ran for governor as a Republican three times without ever making it to the promised land, at age 82.

Larry was a true throwback, campaigning with fervor and Bible quotes, lacing his speeches with old Kentucky saws like “There’s no lesson to be learned from the second kick of a mule.”

While he never achieved his goal, he can take his place among the legendary campaigners like Happy Chandler.

Larry was a good guy and entertaining as hell. He wasn’t always right – he campaign against the Kentucky Education Reform Act, for instance, losing that race against Gov. Paul Patton, the Democrat.

But he wasn’t shy about going after scalawags, Democrat or Republican, and if you missed him, you’re not apt to see his likes again.

I will miss him.

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