The office of Gov. Robert Bentley issued a stern rebuke of Congresswoman Terri Sewell, who recently called for a federal Department of Justice investigation into the state’s recent decision to cut funding for 31 part-time Alabama driver’s license offices, which she says is an assault on the right to vote for rural, African-American and poor communities throughout the state.
Sewell wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch earlier this week, requesting the DOJ begin a probe into the state’s affairs after a plan to cut the budget of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which would have the effect of closing down dozens of offices where Alabamians must receive a driver’s license and other forms of identification.
“My office sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for a full, and thorough investigation into the decision to close 31 driver’s license offices across Alabama. This ill-conceived decision left 8 out of the 14 counties in my district – which is the only majority minority district in the state – without a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue an Alabama driver’s license,” wrote Sewell on Monday.
“My constituents are the least able, and least likely to have access to transportation – either public or private – and thus travel across county lines for a driver’s license,” Sewell said. “The renewed assault on our sacred, constitutionally protected to vote must be stopped. I look forward to working with Attorney General Lynch to stop this latest assault on our voting rights.”
Bentley shot back at Sewell’s move in a letter addressed to the Democratic House member from the state’s 7th Congressional district, calling her actions “impulsive” and “ill-informed.”
“I believe your comments were impulsive, ill-informed, and based on irresponsible media reports concerning decisions to that were made to allocate limited resources of state government,” wrote Bentley, who sternly told Sewell he wished she would have spoken to him privately.
“As you are aware from past experience, as your Governor and your friend, I am available to you and your office as often as needed. Had you contacted me regarding this issue, I would have been pleased to share with you the same facts we shared with the taxpayers of our state,” which Bentley went on to adumbrate.
“The budget passed by the state legislature required many executive branch departments to make difficult decisions regarding how they will allocate their limited resources in Fiscal Year 2016. As Governor, I am obligated to provide a certain level of government services to the people of Alabama and to do that without political preference,” he began.
“While we were able to prevent to closure of driver license offices, the resources used in some supplemental services” had to be reallocated, said Bentley.
He went on to assure her that “No additional transportation burden is caused by the elimination of satellite offices with respect to an Alabama citizen obtaining a Voter ID or driver license.”
“In all 67 counties a citizen will find an available office of the board of registrars. These offices are located in each county’s seat and are equipped to provide free photo identification so that no one has to pay in order to vote,” wrote Bentley, contrary to Sewell’s earlier claims that the closures were akin to a poll tax, used in many southern states to suppress the black vote until the mid-20th century.
The issue has aroused the attention of Civil Rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, who came to Alabama to meet with state legislative Democrats on Wednesday.
Sewell had invoked the struggles of the 1950s and ’60s in her letter to Attorney General Lynch.
“I am particularly appalled by this decision in light of the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches and the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Our nation should be moving forward in terms of expanding access to the vote. It’s utterly disappointing that my home state – the very state that launched the movement towards equality – is the same state that has become fertile ground for its demise,” wrote Sewell in her call to federal action.