Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Lynn Westmoreland is the new Jean Schmidt

When freshman Republican Jean Schmidt drew the short straw, she got to accuse Jack Murtha of being a coward. Now it's freshman Republican Lynn Westmoreland who gets to spearhead an attack on the Voting Rights Act:

A group of Southern Republicans has stalled plans to renew key provisions of the Voting Rights Act before lawmakers recess for the Memorial Day holiday.

About 20 Republican House members—mainly from Georgia, Texas and Mississippi and led by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia—claim some provisions of the act are no longer needed or impose a financial burden on states. Although House Republican leaders pledged early this month to push for a vote by Memorial Day, Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week there is no "commitment" on when the measure will come to the floor because of opposition from the Southern lawmakers.

Unless Congress acts soon, three key sections of the Voting Rights Act will expire in August 2007. The legislation needs to be renewed now, supporters say, because next year's crowded congressional calendar may not allow the bill to complete the legislative hurdles before the act expires.

In a May 10 letter to members of Congress, AFL-CIO Legislative Director William Samuel said, "41 years after initial passage of the VRA, there is significant evidence that barriers to minority voter participation persist." Samuel urged quick passage of the reauthorization, which now has 152 co-sponsors in the House and 43 in the Senate.

The Republican Party must believe that Westmoreland's district is willing to overlook his effort to disenfranchise their neighbors - and it is probably right.