I Feel Sad for Eric Kennie…and for Texas

It takes something to get me to feel much emotion (other than righteous indignation) for the State of Texas. But the story in today’s Guardian about Eric Kennie, who won’t be able to vote in next week’s mid-term elections for the first time in his 45 years as a dyed-in-the-wool Texan, evoked some sadness mixed with just a touch of anger.

The stringent new voter ID law in Texas has disenfranchised an estimated 600,000 registered voters, most of whom are people of color and/or of lower economic status. In other words, likely Democratic voters. Kennie is one of them.

voter-id-lawThe saga told by chief US Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington is heart- and gut-wrenching. Those who support disenfranchisement laws like that adopted in Texas (and, incredibly, allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court to be in effect for this election) always tell us, “These are no big deal. We have a special ID card you can get for little or no cost so you can vote.” Kennie’s saga of attempting to obtain such a card is a tale of incredible persistence in the face of a heartless, mindless bureaucracy intent on one thing: preventing voter fraud. Right. Actually, as Pilkington points out, Texas is “a state where in the past 10 years some 20m votes have been cast, yet only two cases of voter impersonation have been prosecuted to conviction.” To protect the citizens of Texas from having their vote stolen — stolen, I tell you! — by impersonators, 600,000 people will be barred from voting at all.

And that ultimately makes me sad for Texas. Because it is keeping itself stuck in the 19th Century when one race, one culture, one people, suppressed those who were different. Without the rich fabric of multi-culturalism and populism that makes America the great nation that it once was and still can be, we are left in an echo chamber where no real progress can be made on the important issues of our day.

Austin, where Kennie lives, is a truly cosmopolitan city. It is one of my favorite cities in the country. A few years ago I had a chance to spend some time there and get to know some of its denizens, including my good friend and then business partner Chipp Walters. Chipp and I disagree about almost everything political, but we both like Austin (he far more than me, of course). But Austin is an oasis, an intellectual melting pot in a state that is trying desperately to hold back the tide of multi-culturalism that is sweeping our nation.

Eventually, the recalcitrant and conservative Texans will lose. The Hispanics and the blacks, the poor and the middle class, will rise to power by sheer dint of numbers. Those states which have accepted and embraced and facilitate this change will continue to grow and prosper while states like Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida (among others) will remain stuck in the backward days, wondering why their children are poorly educated, their population unhealthy, industries abandoning them (a not-yet-visible trend that must follow the lack of an educated work force). They will then be looking for a Federal handout which, by then, it may not be possible to offer thanks to the intervening years during which these myopic governments closed their eyes, put their fingers in their ears and yelled “no, no, no” at the world.

I hope Kennie is alive to see that day and to vote real representative government into power in Texas. Until then, all I can feel is sad.

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