Mayor Shirley Franklin was barely tall enough to peek over the lectern when she announced her bid for re-election at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site on Auburn Avenue last week.
But she's a giant compared to the dwarves who have left the Democratic Party in shambles. In Georgia alone, we've lost the governorship, both U.S. Senate seats and both houses of the General Assembly in the past three years. The commercials for former Gov. Roy Barnes and former Sen. Max Cleland in 2002 sounded as if they were running to be Disney characters.
I'm tired of pussycat Democrats. I'm looking for somebody who can channel my anger. I'm furious about the way the Bush administration let American citizens perish like dogs on the streets of New Orleans and then turned on its PR machine to shift the blame. I'm angry that young Americans are dying for lies in Iraq. I'm angry at Democrats who think we should all be little Republicans.
I would like to see more politicians get mad. I would like to see someone rise up like Huey Long after the Mississippi River flood of 1927, after the bankers in New Orleans decided to break the levee and inundate poor country folks instead of the city.
Poor folks got it again with Katrina. Some things never change.
So I liked the anger I saw flashing in Shirley Franklin's eyes last week. She wasn't acting. She was really mad.
I spoke with the mayor after her announcement. She was ticked off about the unspeakable new voter ID law in Georgia that could disenfranchise more than 100,000 poor, disabled and elderly voters, many of them African-American and most of them Democrats.
"There are some times when you try to work behind the scenes," Franklin said. "This is not one of those cases. This is a case where we need to fight. We need to be kicking and screaming every step of the way."
You can start kicking and screaming right now. A coalition of civil rights groups announced plans to monitor 30 special elections across Georgia on Sept. 20. Contact information is at the end of this column.
The Voter ID bill was passed earlier this year by the Republicans who dominate the Georgia General Assembly. It was signed into law by GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue. It rocketed to approval through the Bush Justice Department like corn through a goose. The law, the most restrictive of its kind in the country, requires voters to present government-issued photo IDs before casting their ballots.
Thousands of elderly, disabled and poor voters in Georgia don't drive and have no need for a driver's license. The League of Women Voters of Georgia estimated that nearly 153,000 people older than 60 who voted last year didn't have a driver's license and are unlikely to have other photo ID.
The plight of those voters is made more difficult by the remoteness of driver's license offices, where they must go to get a state-issued photo ID. There are only 56 of the offices to serve the state's 159 counties. That could mean a day-long ordeal, even for someone who caught a ride.
Franklin first got mad last spring when she began trying to figure out how her mother, Ruth White, who had moved to Atlanta from Philadelphia in December, could register to vote in Georgia. The confusion over the new law was such that Franklin wrote directly to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for advice.
"Can you imagine the mayor of the city has to ask the attorney general how to get her mother registered?" Franklin asked. "My mother is 84 years old. She worked all her life. She voted in every election. She continues to pay her taxes. She was a teacher for 55 years. And for her to move to any state and not know how to register to vote is outrageous. We're turning back the clock."
Gonzales' response was baffling. He said that under a federal law, White can register by mail to vote the first time in Georgia. But the next time she wants to vote, she'll have to show her voter ID under the Georgia law, Franklin said.
"I just want you to think about that for a minute," the mayor said.
I can't. It makes my head hurt.
The next big step in the fight against the Voter ID law will be in federal court. Forces are gathering to file a lawsuit to try to overturn it. Atlanta attorney Emmet Bondurant is the lead lawyer in the case. Neil Bradley of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights office in Atlanta says the suit should be filed in two or three weeks.
The media are largely brushing off the voter ID law. But they will pay attention to the mayor's race. That's why I'm glad Franklin's making voter ID a campaign issue. She mentioned it in her kickoff speech, and I trust she'll keep pounding away at it.
Candidate qualifying ends Friday. So far, Franklin faces weak opposition: former policy analyst Tiffany Brown, frequent candidate Dave Walker, and political unknown Jesse O. Gray.
The mayor is popular. People rise to their feet to cheer her whether they're in auditoriums or soul-food restaurants. Time called her one of America's "5 Best Big-City Mayors."
She's the only well-known Georgian running for office this year. She has a bully pulpit. She alone can draw attention to the travesty of Georgia's voter purge.
The voter ID law was no fluke. Republicans are finding ways to keep Democrats from voting throughout the country. In the 2000 election, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris wrongfully purged an estimated 54,000 voters they claimed were felons and not eligible to vote. Investigations by our sister publication, the Weekly Planet in Tampa, and the BBC showed that the purge list included thousands of people who were entitled to vote, many of them African-American. A BBC analysis showed that had eligible voters been allowed to vote, Al Gore would have had a net gain of about 20,000 votes -- more than enough to win the presidential election.
The mainstream media almost totally blacked out that story. Likewise, the media have ignored evidence that irregularities kept voters away from the polls in Ohio. Troubling questions about Ohio were raised last month in a Harper's article, "None dare call it stolen." The article says much of the alleged misconduct involved Ohio's Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Eerily, Harris and Blackwell were the Bush-Cheney campaign chairmen in their respective states at the same time they were overseeing their controversial vote counts.
What gives me chills is the good chance that Republicans will take over Georgia's entire voting mechanism in next year's elections. The state uses Diebold computerized voting machines, which critics argue can be manipulated by hackers. We currently have a trustworthy secretary of state, Cathy Cox. But she's leaving office to run for governor. What if a proven sleazebag like Bill Stephens, who's seeking the GOP nomination for secretary of state and has already paid a record $14,000 ethics fine, takes over the Diebold machines? The result will be perpetual power for Republicans.
For more information on the voter ID law, see www.votingrights.org/resources. To volunteer to help, contact Daniel Levitas at firstname.lastname@example.org. To report difficulties voting, especially associated with voter ID restrictions, call 877-462-5333. Contact Senior Editor Doug Monroe at email@example.com.
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