August 17, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

Voting Rights Matter

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.  It was one of the most important pieces of legislation in history.  It was designed to ensure that black people were never again disenfranchised in the United States.  Over time, it has transformed American politics.  For the first time in history, American democracy had become truly democratic. 

As a result of the Voting Rights Act, we saw an explosion of enfranchisement across America.  We saw real minority representation in our legislatures for really the first time.  As time went on, we saw a huge expansion of representation for everyone and not just a few, culminating in the historic election of President Barack Obama.  Now, I fear Wisconsin may be heading moving back towards the bad old days.

The statewide primaries on August 14th will mark the first time Wisconsin will use new district maps drawn up by the Republican Party.  While the maps were being drawn, Republican leadership lied.  They claimed the maps were not partisan, but transcripts reveal that they were designed to create “safe” and “leaning” Republican districts. 

Governor Walker’s allies manipulated district borders for their own interests.  Then, they lied about it.  Their dishonesty betrays a deep cynicism.  After releasing the new maps, the Republicans made many claims.

The Republican maps were dishonest and partisan.  In theory, the maps have one positive aspect.  According to Republican Representative Robin Vos, the maps attempted to “maximize minority representation”.  Unfortunately, I have reason to question representative Vos’ statement.

Analysts have predicted that African American representation in the Wisconsin legislature could be cut in half on August 14th.  When I first learned this fact, I was shocked.  According to one of the leaders most responsible for shaping the maps, they were drawn to maximize minority representation.  While the maps may be dishonest and unfair, this should have been a saving grace.  The districts were drawn to support minority representation.  What happened? 

In the past, legislative districts in Milwaukee have come from their districts and lived in their districts.  They have had family in their districts. They knew their districts and represented their districts very well.  Because of the rights guaranteed under the Voting Rights Act, African American people have at least been allowed some voice in their governments.  It is crucial that we fight to retain that voice.

Democracy remains based upon a central idea, the right of a citizen to be truly represented.  As Americans, we value democracy deeply.  A cultural inheritance passed down from the Founders, democratic ideals are deeply imbedded in American life.  Though the history of democracy in America has been spotty at best, legislation like the Voting Rights Act has helped to redeem that history in recent years. 

The American people know when they are being properly represented.   When representatives don’t really care about the same issues their constituents care about, they get voted out of office.  When voters sense that a candidate is in the game for their only own good, that candidate will not be elected.  Despite whatever unfair trickery the Republican Party has built into its new maps, everyone still has a vote to be counted.  This August 14th, let your voice be heard!