Hillary Clinton: DMV closures “a blast from the Jim Crow past”

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Former Secretary of State and more-or-less frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped in Birmingham this weekend to speak at the Alabama Democratic Conference‘s semi-annual convention, yet another sign of Alabama’s growing political power in the presidential nominating process.

It wasn’t all love for Clinton and Alabama when she visited the state, however: she also penned a scathing editorial wherein she accused Gov. Robert Bentley and the state Legislature of intentionally infringing upon African-Americans’ right to vote by shuttering some auxiliary DMV offices in the wake of steep budget cuts.

She drew heavily upon the names and imagery of the Civil Rights Era in her Saturday op-ed piece, stopping just short of saying the decisions were racist.

The closings would make getting driver’s licenses and personal identification cards much harder for many African Americans. That would make voting much harder, too.  As many Alabamians have said in recent days, that’s just dead wrong.

Governor Bentley is insisting that the closings had nothing to do with race, but the facts tell a different story.  Fifty years after Rosa Parks sat, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched, and John Lewis bled, it’s hard to believe Americans are still forced to fight for their right to vote—especially in places where the civil rights movement fought so hard all those years ago.  The parallels are inescapable: Alabama is living through a blast from the Jim Crow past.

The Wellesley and Yale Law graduate also got folksy in her misive, twice employing homespun-esque metaphors to illustrate her point.

Debunking what she called Gov. Bentley’s “excuses” for the DMV closures – namely limited state resources – Clinton said:

It reminds me of that old saying: “You find a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there on its own.” Institutionalized racism doesn’t just happen. People make it happen.

Taking a swipe at a handful of her Republican rivals, HRC went back to the well of colorful language in trying to substantiate her charges of racial bias on the part of GOP policymakers.

Jeb Bush says he wouldn’t reauthorize the Voting Rights Act because voting conditions have improved since it was passed.  As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, that’s like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.  When asked recently about voter ID laws, Marco Rubio replied, “What’s the big deal?”  John Kasich restricted early voting in Ohio after the 2008 election, when 77 percent of early voters in the most populated county were African American.

What part of democracy are all these candidates afraid of?

Clinton unveiled a three-part plan to remedy the perceived injuries to Civil Rights in Alabama.

First, Congress should put principle ahead of politics and pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act.  This bipartisan bill would restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

Second, we should set a standard across this country of at least 20 days of early, in-person voting—including opportunities for weekend and evening voting.

Third, we should enact universal, automatic voter registration, so every young person in every state is automatically registered to vote when they turn 18, unless they opt out. I applaud California for beginning to implement a similar approach last week.  More states should follow their lead.

Those steps are unlikely to gain traction anytime soon, as is her Democratic bid for the White House among Alabama voters. But she must be commended for stopping by.

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