House votes to renew 1965 Voting Rights Act without changes pushed by Southern conservatives
WASHINGTON, Jul. 14, 2006 By LAURIE KELLMAN
Associated Press Writer
(AP) The renewal of the 1965 voiting Rights Act, passed by the House despite criticism that Southern states were being hounded over their racist past, now faces similar objections from senators who oppose its federal oversight.
"While we won in the House, the Georgia and Texas senators are going to use the same arguments," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said after watching the House debate from the gallery on Thursday. "In the Senate their power looms larger."
Unlike House members, any senator can hold up passage of a bill by lodging an objection. It wasn't yet clear whether those who want changes to the landmark civil rights legislation would take that hardball approach. But those senators weren't shy about their opposition long before the House passed the bill 390-33 on Thursday.
"I'd like to see some changes," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., noting that the law doesn't expire until next year.
Coburn and other senators have concerns that echo those voiced by conservatives in the House, mostly Southerners, that the renewal as written unfairly punishes states with racist pasts they say have been overcome.
The conservatives pushed for votes on several amendments to loosen federal oversight of their states, but all of those proposals failed overwhelmingly in the House.
"Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga. "That Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents. ... We have repented and we have reformed."
Some House conservatives were frank about their desire the Senate will succeed where they failed.
"I sincerely hope the U.S. Senate corrects these problems so when the bill returns to the House for final passage I can vote for it," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., whose state is one of those under federal scrutiny.
The debate exposed the still stinging wounds from the civil rights movement and raised the ire of Southerners who say that 140 years after the Civil War, their states were still being punished.
Westmoreland, for example, blamed the failure of the amendments in part on "lingering prejudice toward Southerners."
"I agree there are problems across the country _ which is why it defies common sense to treat a handful of states differently," he said in a statement after the vote.
Jackson, a veteran of the civil rights era, said the argument sounded familiar.
"The House passed it today. But you saw tremendous resistance by the same states' righters that we saw 40 years ago," he said.
The defeated amendments included one that would have renewed the act for a decade, not the 25 years proposed in the legislation. Proponents felt the shorter time frame was more fair to states under federal oversight.
Those who killed that amendment pointed to a dozen House hearings that produced evidence that racist voting practices continue and will probably endure long after the act expires in 25 years.
"We should extend it beyond 100 years, because some of the problems will probably continue to exist that long," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.
All of the "no" votes came from Republicans like Westmoreland, in defiance of their own leaders.
"The liberties and freedom embedded in the right to vote must remain sacred," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in a statement. "Principles like these cannot wait for discrimination to rear its ugly head."
The House also overwhelmingly rejected amendments that would have struck its requirement that ballots in some states be printed in several languages.
"What unites us? It's our language, the English language," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. Without the amendment, the act is "hurting America by making it easier not to learn English."
The House rejected that amendment, 238-185.
The White House also weighed in during the debate, saying in a statement that the Bush administration "supports the intent" of the renewal. The statement did not take a position on the amendments proposed by lawmakers who represented the GOP's conservative base.