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Interview with US Rep John Lewis on the Voting Rights Act Renewal

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Matthew Cardinale
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This article courtesy of Atlanta Progressive News.

(APN) ATLANTA -- "I'm shocked, I'm surprised, and I'm also very saddened, to relive some of these issues over again, using some of the same language that was used in the 1950s and 1960s," US Rep. John Lewis told Atlanta Progressive News in a phone interview.

"I think the Voting Rights Act was good and necessary in 1965 and it is still good and necessary in 2006," Rep. Lewis said.

Congressman Lewis's comments are in response to the fact that two Georgia Republican Congressmen delayed a US House vote on reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act just two days ago, on June 27, 2006.

HR 9, sponsored by Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI), has 152 cosponsors and was introduced May 02, 2006. It is officially called "The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act."

On May 10, 2006, HR 9 passed the House Judiciary Committee on a vote of 33-1. The one vote against was from Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Lewis said, adding King's opposition had been over the issue of language protections for voters who speak languages other than English. Rep. King would like to ship all illegal immigrants out of the US in buses, Rep. Lewis said; the Voting Rights Act does not apply to illegal immigrants, only to US citizens, however.

On June 20, 2006, H Res 878, sponsored by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), from the House Rules Committee, called for HR 9 to be considered by the entire House floor.

However, H Res 878, and thus HR 9, have been held up by H Res 890, an unrelated appropriations bill which included language tabling HR 878. HR 9 has been tabled while two amendments to HR 9 are being considered, Rep. Lewis said. This tabling occurred June 27, 2006.

"I have friends who were beaten and killed as part of the Mississippi Summer project. There are members of Congress [today] who are very young, who don't understand their history, who don't understand their legacy. Brave men put themselves on the line. There was a coalition in Congress [and also the support of] President Johnson," Lewis said.

The Voting Rights Act will be renewed-and that's including the crucial sections such as Section 5 requiring Department of Justice (USDOJ) scrutiny of any changes to nine Southern states' voting processes-Congressman Lewis predicts.

The nine states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Specific areas in several other states are also covered.

"If the Speaker brings it back after July 4th, we'll have the votes in Congress to defeat these amendments by Norwood and Westmoreland," Lewis said.

"I do believe there is a deliberate, systematic attempt to deny certain groups in our population access to the ballot, to limit the participation of more people in the political process," Rep. Lewis said.

Democrats and Republicans have been working for months on crafting legislation to renew the historic Voting Rights Act.

This process has included research and testimony documenting the continuing need for USDOJ scrutiny in the same states as 41 years ago, Rep. Lewis's spokesperson , Brenda Jones, said.

However, two Republican US Congressmen from Georgia just introduced amendments inconsistent with the bipartisan compromise, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

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Matthew Cardinale is Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He has written previously for the Sun-Sentinel Newspaper, Shelterforce Magazine, The Advocate Magazine, The San Francisco Bay View, and the Berkeley Daily Planet Newspaper. He has also (more...)
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