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June 11th, 2009
An Idle Word: May I see your ID

An Idle Word: A column
by BILL CUNNINGHAM

Please Gov. Perry, don’t add the so-called voter i.d. issue to the Special Session of the Texas Legislature you are planning to call this summer. If you can refrain, I promise to stop referring to you in print as the “Coif in Chief.”

By all accounts, the slowdown and failure to act on such important issues as financing the continuation of the Texas Department of Transportation in the regular session concluded barely more than a week ago, was caused by the bitterness engendered by this one issue.

Even the genuine bipartisan concern for our beloved Seguin neighbor Rep. Ed Kuempel after his heart attack wasn’t enough to stem the vitriol generated by this one issue, which happens to rank pretty low on my priorities for our state. I doubt that I’m the only Texan who doesn’t lie awake at night worrying what will happen to our state during the current national crisis if we don’t require every voter to bring a picture i.d. to the polls with them.

Bear in mind, that this was a session with a new Speaker of the House who put partisan issues on his personal backburner in order to pull Republicans and Democrats together.

Instead, the session almost devolved into déjà vu of the ugly redistricting battle of years ago.

We’ve probably all had friends who we hate to go to bars or parties with because we know they’re just going to be looking for a fight and sure enough the Republicans had some of those buddies come along. And when the fight breaks out, you have to wade in with your friends.

The secret to avoiding this real life is to just find an excuse not to go out but the Republicans who believe in addressing truly substantive issues don’t have that option available when a special session is called.

The governor is the only one who can limit that donnybrook from breaking out again but it’s a tough call when you’re facing a stiff reelection campaign in your own party’s primary and doing so by throwing out red meat issues.

It’s a crazy idea I know but why not just limit the session to those pressing immediate problems, getting them addressed in only a week or so and then saving the divisive issues for future episodes of Circus Maximus Austin.

It’s not that I think the security of the ballot box shouldn’t be protected but weighed again these more pressing issues, why risk another meltdown.

And as any doctor will tell you, too much red meat can prove damaging.

Whatever, the true merits of voter identifications are, minorities are firmly convinced the voter i.d. message is aimed directly at discouraging their participation in the process.

In this, it’s like the illegal immigration issue. There really are very serious concerns by racially tolerant Democrats as well as Republicans about the long-term financial implications (health care, Social Security, etc.). I personally know Hispanics who are concerned about illegal immigration after they have achieved citizenship legally.

But zealots have drowned the sober debates out. I once received an e-mailed video game from an acquaintance who assumed that I would be amused by the contents which awarded points for gunning down various categories of border crossers. I promptly deleted it and fortunately got my name off his list.

The discussion by many GOP activists (a sober analysis of the situation was one of the things President Bush got right as did Senator John McCain, although it no doubt costs him points in his own party) was such that retired Republican House Majority leader Dick Armey—no flaming liberal—weighed in on it in an interview I read a couple of years ago.

I don’t have the exact quote but it was something to the effect that his party had approached the issue by first identifying the fastest growing demographic in America that was trending towards voting Republican and then followed up their assessment by asking themselves, “What can we do to alienate them the most from the Republican Party?”

This is a risk Perry should be considering. Conventional wisdom holds that the winner of the Republican primary between the incumbent and Senator Hutchison will easily win in the General Election.

But with the surge in the Democratic Party in states once given up for lost B.B. (Before Barack), a bitter GOP primary could produce problems for a wounded Perry if he emerged victorious.

Rumors are circulating that potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates could include Phil Hardberger, the term-limited former mayor of San Antonio who won high marks for his administration and John T. Montford, the former Lubbock state senator turned Texas Tech Chancellor turned AT&T executive in San Antonio. Montford, is the type of conservative Democrat that used to be routinely elected, and with his ties now throughout the state (as well as his nickname of “Iron John” earned when he was Lubbock District Attorney) could pose a unique challenge.

So, Governor you might want to take some politics into account (although like Claude Rains, I’m sure you would be shocked at politics figuring into important state issues) when calling this Session.

Round ‘em up, head ‘em out to address the immediately pressing issues and then send ‘em home.

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IDLE CHATTER

I have been remiss in addressing comments from my readers (assuming I still have any) so I decided I better get started again and am officially renaming the feedback section “Idle Chatter.”

TO BILL HANEY (who commented a couple of weeks ago about my comparison of the swine flu and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918): Bill, it’s good to hear from you. Bet you’ll find something to disagree with me on this week. It’s always nice to find someone you can disagree with in an agreeable manner and you are one. You may even be right on your comments that I was overly optimistic about being too panicky about this current outbreak. I read in the morning paper (they still print those) buried on Page 2 that the World Health Organization is preparing to declare the swine flu a “pandemic.” I hope I’m right but if not we can stop worrying about the U.S. government going into the car business.

TO CHARLES SIMS: I’m not sure about the implication of the ad for the movie “Drag Me To Hell” appearing next to my column. Maybe it’s meant as an option to reading “Idle Word.”

TO MARK HENDERSON: Thanks for the explanation of the title of your book. Always like to bone up on ancient Greek torture devices.

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5 thoughts on “An Idle Word: May I see your ID

  1. You have to show your ID when writing a check, using a credit card or even using your bank card as a “point of sale” (credit card). You have to show your ID when you buying a car and car insurance, when buying a house, when registering your child for school, to buy booze, and cigarettes. You have to show ID when getting health insurance and at the DR’s office. What is the big deal? I believe that the people who are throwing such a fit over this wouldn’t throw a fit if someone got caught using their stolen credit cards. Wow, I really think there is a heck of more important things to throw a fit over with the state of our economy and the world.

  2. “It’s a crazy idea I know but why not just limit the session to those pressing immediate problems, getting them addressed in only a week or so and then saving the divisive issues for future episodes of Circus Maximus Austin.”
    Bill Cunningham.

    Yes, that is a pretty crazy idea. In a week, the Texas legislature can’t decide who get the good parking spaces. We have Sunset issues to deal with and Sunset legislation is everyone’s favorite Christmas tree. For non Texas legislative geeks, a Christmas tree is a bill that has all sorts of unrelated or barely related issues attached to it. To get the big bill passed, you have to take all the bad amendments that get tacked on. Unless the clock runs.

    What would we do if TXDOT really went away? Not a bad idea when you give it a little thought.

    For those of you who are not aficionados of the Texas legislative process, I offer a small tip to watch for when the House and Senate are in session, either regular of special. The citizens of Texas do have a lobbyist. The Texas citizens lobbyist is one of the best in Austin. That lobbyist is called “Time”. 90% or all House or Senate bills which are filed each session are either the wrong thing to do, poorly written or just stupid. The limited legislative session runs out the clock on almost all of these bills. That is a good thing. If even 15% of the bills introduced were passed, the State of Texas would grind to a halt.

    Bill’s example above, Voter ID, is a good place to start. In the last few days of the session, there were a number of compromises discussed and even a few formal amendments added to the bill. Each compromise made somebody mad. There was no consensus on how Texas should proceed, or even if Texas should proceed, with Voter ID. The whole thing collapsed of it’s own weight in the last hours of the session. That was a good thing for everyone, supporters and detractors. The bill was poorly written. The compromises were even worse. With more time, the Senate and House would have reached a bad agreement and the results would not have made either the Democrats or the Republicans happy. Since the clock ran out, we now have (hopefully) two years to think this deal through. Unless, Governor Good Hair decides to make this a campaign issue and puts it on the Special Session where we continue the fight that nobody really wants. Per Bill’s example above, the clock runs out on all the necessary things that need to be done in the Special Session and we are still left with a bad voter ID law.

    We will have a Special Session because if we don’t the Texas Racing Commission will be Sunseted and go out of business. Wait, wait, that’s a bad example. We would all be better off if the Texas Racing Commission closed down but the racing and gambling interests are not going to let that happen. The Texas racing and gambling interest have lots of money but little common sense. Every time Texas gets even close to doing some kind of gambling bill, the gambling guys get into a big squabble over how to divide the pie and nothing gets passed. That is good for individual legislatures because that means in two years the racing/gambling guys are going to have to pony up another round of big contributions. Mean while the clock ran out on gambling this session so Texas didn’t get stuck with a really bad gambling bill. You might think it is bad because doing something would be better than doing nothing. You are wrong. Once we enact a bad system, it is very hard to change.

    Be glad your Texas legislature only meets for 140 days every two years.

  3. Since my friends Bill Cunningham and Charles Sims seem to be having a love fest condemning the late ballot security bill that would have required a “voter to present proof of identification,” I thought I might jump in with a few contrary words.

    Let’s deal first with the corpus delicti, known in popular parlance as the photo ID bill. It was not a “poorly written bill” as Charles S. submits. It was not confusing. It was not unconstitutional. It did not unnecessarily conflict with existing law. It was not any of the things that mark sloppily written legislation. In fact, the Texas Legislative Council, a state agency that writes 99% of the filed bills, was responsible for the original wording.

    The bill, sans any “compromises,” was not problematic. It was nine pages and contained a little less than 1900 words. About two-thirds of the text outlined the duties of state and county election officials under the bill. The actual requirements for presenting proper identification for voting were dealt with in the remaining one-third. In other words, it would not have been difficult for voters to understand. As for the compromises, well, they did not happen, did they?

    The section dealing with voting requirements was quite straightforward. And a voter would have options if they did not have a “driver’s license or personal identification card issued to the person by the Department of Public Safety. . . .” It also named a number of other acceptable photo IDs. If a voter had none of those, he could present any two non-photo IDs from a myriad of other sources as long as they established identity. Those included everything from a voter registration certificate to a utility bill to court records establishing that person’s sex change. Is that enough range of choice?

    The bill, officially SB 362, can be found on the state legislature’s website at http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=81R&Bill=SB362. Read it for yourself.

    Now, on to placing blame for the fiasco. Bill C. seems to lay it squarely on the Republicans who introduced and supported the ballot security bill. But wait just a minute. Who killed that bill? Who was it that successfully filibustered over that single bill throughout the last days of the session and in the process massacred a whole slew of other legislation? Who was responsible for forcing a special session? It was the Other Party, known not-so-affectionately as the Democrats.

    They did it because they were in utter, abject fear of having to vote on the ID bill. They were responsible for the death of the bills in the regular session. And only they can avoid what Bill C. calls a donnybrook in the special session. That would be easy enough. Simply let the voter ID bill come to a vote after honest debate and take your chances. Some Dems might even like to vote for it to please their constituents. Stranger things have happened.

    Texans overwhelmingly favor a law requiring better ballot security, primarily through stricter voter identification. SB 362 would have done that, while at the same time providing alternative ways of establishing valid personal identification.

    The Democrats knew that over the last few years support for voter photo ID has consistently been between sixty and seventy percent of all persons polled. That hung like a thundercloud over their caucus. The word around the rumor-ridden capital was equally chilling for Dems. Those statehouse denizens known as being in the know whispered in Democrat ears that a significant number of their seats might be lost if the ballot security legislation became law.

    Oh, woe is me. Can’t vote Yea. Can’t vote Nay. Oh, what to do? Why, abandon your constituents, of course. Resort to the drastic legislative slaughterhouse strategy so you can avoid taking a stand. It is The Democrat Way. Alas, we constituents will now have to listen to every boneheaded excuse in the book.

    Governor, do not listen to Bill and Charles. Do not give the Other Party what they want. Put a revamped SB 362 in the call for the special session. Put the anti-democrats back on the griddle. Their jumping from one rhetorical foot to the other is such rollicking good fun to watch.

  4. Jim Green said – “a significant number of their seats might be lost if the ballot security legislation became law”

    If what Jim said is true, that might explain why the Dems otherwise inexplicably oppose voter ID. Shame on them. I can think of no GOOD reason why a valid ID should not be required for voting. I have not liked the Republicans much of late, but the Dems are looking STUPID, STUPID, STUPID.

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