Let’s face it, the Republican Party does not want most people of color in Arizona or nationwide to vote.
Why? Because most people of color don’t vote for them.
The so-called “party of Lincoln” may have helped free the slaves, but it has spent the bulk of its history since building a record of discrimination against people of color.
Instead of the party of Abraham Lincoln, the GOP has become “the party of almost all white people.” It’s an image the Republican Party began building in earnest when it decided to oppose passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That year’s Republican presidential nominee, then-U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, purportedly opposed the bill on constitutional grounds and not because he was racist. His defenders note that Goldwater had backed earlier civil rights legislation, was a founding member of the Arizona NAACP, and helped establish American Legion Post 41 in South Phoenix when Latino military vets faced discrimination at posts north of Van Buren Street – the city’s racial and ethnic borderline at the time.
Whether Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act for racial, political or constitutional reasons – or some amalgam of the three – is a matter of debate, but it doesn’t change the fact that, by the mid-1960s the GOP, thanks in part to Goldwater, had effectively cemented its fate with most minority voters, especially blacks, Latinos and Native Americans.
To be sure, not all Republicans are antagonistic toward people of color. Trouble is, whenever a well-meaning faction of the GOP tries to widen its tent, the party shoots itself in the foot.
There was President Richard Nixon’s infamous 1968 “Southern Strategy,” a move designed to appeal to white voters in Southern states upset over the enactment of the Civil Rights Act by capitalizing on racist attitudes toward blacks. Ronald Reagan’s campaign speeches in 1980 touted the virtues of “states’ rights” and made clear he was picking up where Nixon left off. California Gov. Pete Wilson’s scapegoating of Mexican immigrants in the early 1990s got him re-elected, but ultimately backfired and played a major role in turning that state bright blue. And don’t even get me started on Trump – the most blatantly white supremacist president since Andrew Jackson, whose Indian Removal Act, “perfected the practice” of ethnic cleansing.
For its part, Arizona’s GOP, despite the state’s increasingly purple-hue, still seems hell-bent on alienating voters of color and dooming its fate at the ballot box in 2020 and for years to come.
The latest example comes compliments of State Rep. Kelly Townsend, sponsor of House Bill 2616. The bill would make it a crime for anyone who isn’t employed by a political party to get paid for registering people to vote. Volunteers registering people to vote would also have a harder time of it. The goal, Townsend claims, is to stop voter fraud. Critics say the bill’s goal is really about voter suppression.
Rep. Reginald Bolding, a Democrat who opposes the bill, told his colleagues: “Republicans know, just like Democrats know that the more people who vote, the less likely we will see an extreme Legislature that is forcing policies that don’t reflect the State of Arizona.”
I’ll go a step further: Most Arizona Republicans, especially in the party’s leadership ranks, don’t like that more people of color, young people and women are voting for and electing more people of color, young people and women – along with a respectable number of non-Republican white guys.
Instead of responding to the needs and interests of our state’s evolving constituency, Republicans have opted to make it harder for people who don’t vote for them to cast any vote at all.
That’s more than politics as usual. It’s innately corrupt and anti-democratic. And it’s a GOP practice that has not been confined to Arizona. As Ari Berman, author of the Give Us The Ballot, told NPR ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, “You’re seeing a national effort by the Republican Party to try to restrict voting rights, and it’s playing out in states all across the country.”
Townsend’s bill, incidentally, was hardly the first in this session of the Legislature (or recent sessions) to take aim at Arizona’s increasingly diverse voting base.
In a column last month for this site, Bolding and Rep. Athena Salman, wrote: “Several of our fellow legislators have reacted to last year’s record-breaking voter turnout by filing anti-democracy bills that would make our elections less secure, more inefficient, and less accessible.”
I’ll go a step further: The right to vote is our most hallowed civil right. It is the right from which all other civil rights originate. It is the right upon which all true democracies are built and preserved. It is the right that gives rise to the right of self-determination.
It is also the right above all rights that the GOP should commit never to suppress, since someday the voters getting suppressed could be theirs.