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Mississippi Senator James "Big Jim" Eastland

Voter Suppression Ohio Jim Eastland

Senator James O. Eastland, a segregationist Mississippi Democrat, was none too fond of Yankee Republicans like Sen. Jake Javits of New York .

“I don't like you — or your kind,” Eastland once told Javits, who was Jewish and a liberal to boot.

On the other hand, Big Jim loved Dixie's Jim Crow laws, which denied African Americans the vote and kept them separate and unequal from whites.

I suspect if Big Jim were still around, he'd have switched to the GOP like his Senate pals Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms did.

My guess is, too, he'd cotton to Yankee Republicans Doug Priesse, Jon Husted and Mike Turzai.

Priesse is the Ohio Republican election bigwig who is still in the news for telling the Columbus Dispatch in an email that “we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban--read African American--voter-turnout machine.”

The Buckeye State went for Obama in 2008, when early voting was heavily African American and Democratic. So for this year's election, Priess’ buddy, Husted, the Republican secretary of state, tried to trim early voting hours in Democratic counties and expand them in Republican counties.

Widespread public protests forced Husted to back off, sort of. He limited voting hours for everybody, which Democrats say still hurts them more.

Republicans hotly deny that racial prejudice and partisan politics have anything to do with their new election rules in Ohio and other states, like Pennsylvania, where voters must have special photo IDs. Democrats charge that photo ID laws make voting harder not just for minorities but also for the elderly and the poor, because they are less likely to have the required IDs. They are also more likely to vote Democratic.

Republicans insist they aren't trying to supress the Democratic vote. They say their aim is to stop "voter fraud."

The Democrats aren't buying it. Neither is TV comic-iconoclast Bill Maher who cut loose at the GOP on his program the other night:

"Now I know it doesn't seem like showing picture ID should be such a big deal, but it turns out one in ten Americans who used to be able to vote, could not this time under these new laws. See, Republicans love America and cherish its ideals.

"So they ask themselves, 'What is it that we have that many Democratic leaning inner city voters don't have? I know, we have photo ID, our driver's licenses and many of them don't because they're too poor to own a car....But what makes the voter ID laws special is that they propose to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

"We have empirical data proving that essentially no one is showing up at the polls impersonating a legally registered voter....In person voter fraud is a crime that doesn't happen.

"Since 2000, there have been ten cases of it--ten--out of 146 million voters....But don't even accuse a Republican of racism. They just happened to come up with a legal technicality that if applied nationally would mean one in four black people can't vote."

Priesse, Husted and Turzai, who is the Pennsylvania state house majority leader, probably aren't big Maher fans. Turzai spilled the beans when he blabbed that the Keystone state’s photo ID requirement “is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania ."

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Eastland knew all about making sure his party always won in Mississippi. The white supremacist Democrats who ran the Magnolia State and the rest of the old Confederacy disfranchised African Americans for years. All the while, they insisted in public that race had nothing to do with it.

In 1957, Eastland told CBS TV’s Mike Wallace that Mississippi didn’t keep black people from voting because they were black. Oh, no, Big Jim protested, it was "because they have a long history of Republicanism, they are members of the Republican Party and of course they cannot vote in the Democratic primary which is the election in our state. The Republican Party doesn't even run candidates."

The GOP does now, of course, and most of them win. They tend to be white folks whose views are closer to Eastland's than Javits.'

But even in the Empire State and elsewhere up north and out west, the GOP is largely what the Eastland wing of the Democratic party used to be: the white peoples' party.

The white South started going Republican in the 1960s when Yankee Democrats made their party what the Republicans had been since the 1860s: the party of federal civil rights action.

The party of Lincoln and Liberty is long gone. So is the party of Jake Javits, who joined a bunch of other Yankee Republicans in voting for the civil rights bills the Yankee Democrats were championing.

White Southerners hated the original GOP, which led the Yankees to victory in the Civil War, saved the Union, ended slavery, extended citizenship to African Americans and put the ballot into the hands of black men.

After Reconstruction, White Southern Democrats responded by passed Jim Crow laws that institutionalized segregation and stopped almost all blacks from voting.

At 62, I’m old enough to remember the tail end of Jim Crow in my native Kentucky , where I still live. John Hennen, same age as me, was a pup in Jim Crow Huntington, W.Va. Neither state passed laws disfranching African Americans, but only because the white Democrats in power figured there weren't enough black Republicans to bother.

Hennen, a Morehead, Ky., State University historian and author, says Jim Crow has flown north. He calls the GOP voter laws “a concerted effort by a dying party which, rather than transform itself from a party of, by, and for whites--a forty-five year trend beginning with the migration of segregationist Democrats into the Republican Party when the national Democrats promoted civil rights legislation—into a truly representative organization.”

Adds Hennen: “They are using a relatively benign principle--some basic requirement to legally register to vote--as the wedge into the justification for restricting rather than expanding the rights of the country’s growing class of poor potential voters--who would respond more favorably to Democratic social welfare, fair taxation, health care and inclusion politics."

Instead, Hennen says, the Republicans prefer to resurrect the Dixie Democrats' Jim Crow tactics to depress voter turnout among African Americans.

Hennen says that the GOP brass really doesn’t care if their voter suppression laws stand the test of time and survive constitutional challenges. The idea, he adds, is what Turzai said it is: to make Romney president.

Says Hennen: “We must keep in mind Martin Luther King’s inspiring vision that in the long run, the arc of the universe bends toward justice.”

Berry Craig

Republicans hope that arc stays flat through Nov. 6 at least. The likes of Big Jim kept it unbent for a long time in Dixie . The likes of Priesse, Husted and Turzai are doing their best in Yankee land.

Berry Craig

Posted: Tuesday, 28 August 2012