The Observer has watched the 89th Arkansas General Assembly like a high-speed wreck between an armored car full of money and a loaded manure spreader shown in slow motion. This state, mostly pragmatic and caring, managed to stave off the Teabagger Tide much longer than most, but now it's come and we find ourselves being rapidly flushed back to the caves with the rest of the South.
Every day during this session seemed to bring some fresh hell, some new backwardness, some new lunacy, some new embarrassment and/or out-of-state-employer-repellent for this land we love. There will always be those who want to steer Arkansas and the rest of the South back to the good ol' days that were only good for a very small, very select few. Now those folks and their agents have seized the wheel of the ship of state. Rocks, ahoy!
Among the latest hellish ideas has been cookie-cutter legislation requiring an ID to vote, an idea which has been rammed through in Republican strongholds all over this country as a way of defeating the largely non-existent crime of in-person voter fraud. While such laws sound good on the surface (you present an ID at the bank, why not the polling place?) they do, without a doubt, disenfranchise large numbers of the poor, the elderly, and minorities — groups that often vote Democrat, damn them coincidences. Don't drive? Live in a rural community and can't make it to a gubmint office to get an officially-official ID? Don't have the money to pay for gas to get there and an ID fee? Too bad. You can't vote. That's Cashocracy for ya.
For the middle class and wealthy, an ID requirement is a five-second inconvenience of fumbling the driver's license you already have out of your wallet or purse. For the poor, the sick, or the infirm, it's yet another reason to add to the mountain of reasons to stay home on Election Day. After all, why go to all that trouble and expense over one little vote?
The Observer was reminded of our seething rage over the issue when we received an e-mail last week from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. He's a particularly good egg, even among the folks who wear a robe to work — willing to get loud on the topics he cares about, on or off the bench.
The email was titled: "What the Voter ID People Don't Understand," and was accompanied by a photo of the stately judge, standing in his chambers, holding a framed piece of paper. Over his shoulder is a poster bearing the image of three bathroom doors, the doors bearing the words: "Men," "Ladies," and "Colored." An African-American judge, in the State of Arkansas, standing before that image in a country with an African-American president. Oh, how far we've come, and oh, how much we have to lose. But I digress.
"I am holding my mother's 1963 poll tax receipt," the judge wrote. "It was among the papers I found following her death in 2002. I keep it framed and on display in my court chambers because I still remember my parents, maternal grandmother, and other elders picking cotton to earn the money to pay the poll tax. Their struggles, and the indignities they endured, are what inspired people like Rep. John Walker and me to become lawyers. James Baldwin once remarked, 'Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.' I respectfully offer the proponents of voter ID legislation as present-day proof of Baldwin's comment. Their cultural incompetence sadly is condemning Arkansas for the foreseeable future. Such willful ignorance isn't pitiable, only damning."
Well said, Your Honor. I guess that's why we trust you with that fancy gavel.