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Archive for August, 2011

Voter ID Laws Disenfranchise Women 91 Years After Suffrage

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day on August 26, marking the day women received the right to vote in 1920, we need to be aware of  a move  now affront to disenfranchise women. Voter ID laws enacted now in over half the states, requiring voters to present some form of identification as a requirement to vote will place unreasonable burdens on many women who may well be unaware of the difficulty they could face when casting their vote in the 2012 election.

Fourteen states require a government issued photo ID when voting in person. At the time of registering to vote, other states like Kansas and Alabama further demand proof of citizenship beyond the federal legal requirement that citizens swear they are citizens. During the 2011 legislative session, five states—Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina—joined Georgia and Indiana by enacting the strictest form of photo ID requirement for voters, and most of these newest changes will first come into effect for the 2012 elections.

Proponents of the laws argue that photo ID’s are a reasonable way to protect our elections and make them fair.  But far from harmless, the laws are complex and place unnecessary hardship on women—those who are newly married or recently divorced as well as senior citizens and low-income women.

Requiring voters to register with proof of citizenship is more problematic for women than for men. A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school shows that only 66 percent of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name. Women who have recently married or divorced and have changed their names—and whose passport, naturalization papers or birth certificate are in their former names—will then be required to obtain a certified court document showing the divorce decree or marriage certificate. These documents vary in cost from state to state but can cost upwards of $25 plus any time off work to obtain them.  The certified court documents may not even be in the state where you now reside, further delaying and complicating matters.

For those women who are already registered to vote, the same problem will hold true. The photo ID must be in the same name that is registered with the Election Board. Hence, any recent changes in name from divorce or marriage will require certified proof of the name change along with the new photo ID. Of course, most men need not endure such onerous paper trail requirements. But U.S. women change their names in 90 percent of marriages. Karen Celestino-Horseman, an attorney for the League of Women Voters, says “women in particular are going to be impacted,” by requirements that they produce documents authenticating every name change in cases of marriage and divorce.

Some of the laws will allow you to provisionally vote if you arrive on Election Day without the proper ID, and then return within several days with a current photo ID. There is no guarantee that a provisional ballot will count A case in point is  Valeria Williams, in her 60s, who was told in 2006 that her telephone bill, letter from the Social Security Administration addressed to her and an expired driver’s license  were not sufficient. She cast a provisional ballot that was not counted.

The argument by the supporters of these voter ID laws that you can’t board a plane or drive a car without a photo ID fails to recognize that not everyone flies or drives. And it further fails to recognize the extra burdens placed on women, particularly recently divorced, newly married women, seniors and low income women.

Equal access to the polls is paramount for all. Women and particularly women of color who fought so hard for suffrage and became the last to get that right may now be the first to lose it.

Debbie Hines is a lawyer and political/legal commentator who is seen on national and local media including CNN, the Michael Eric Dyson Show, XM Sirius radio, NBC and CBS -Washington, DC affiliates, the Wall Street Journal,  Washington Post, USA Today,  Black Enterprise among others.  She founded LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics.  She also writes for the Huffington Post and Politic 365.

Mississippi Democrats Nominate First Black for Governor

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

For the first time in history, an African American will lead his party’s ticket as candidate for governor of the state of Mississippi. Hattiesburg mayor, Johnny DuPree became the first African  American to win a major party nomination for Mississippi governor. In a run- off election on Tuesday, he won 55 percent of the vote and will face Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant in November. DuPree was outspent by his opponents but ran a successful grass roots campaign.

In the history of the US, there have only been 3 African American governors since Reconstruction period ended in 1877.  They were Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, New York Governor David Patterson and current Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.  And since Reconstruction ended, there have only been 3 black US senators which include Edward Brook (D.MA), Carol Mosely Braun (D.IL) and Barack Obama (D.IL).  DuPree has said he is aware of the milestone hurdle he had made but does not want to dwell on it.

Going up against the Republican seat vacated by Haley Barbour, Johnny DuPree says this is a David and Goliath story. But, remember, David won that battle. The general election is set for November 2.

Dr. King Leaves a Message for President Obama

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

MLK Monument on Opening Day

At the opening of Dr. King’s monument, there was a direct message from Dr. King to President Obama.  The Martin Luther King monument opened on Monday, August 22 and drew diverse crowds. Just as important as the crowds and statute of Dr. King were the words inscribed on the walls surrounding the monument. The prophetic words of Dr. King to President Obama are found in this wall panel which states:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Dr. King  faced challenging times during the civil rights era and fight for equality for African Americans. President Obama, in his first 3 years, has also experienced challenging and controversial times including racism by his fellow Americans, obstructionism by GOP lawmakers, and criticism by his strongest allies, progressives and African Americans. Americans and particularly African Americans face high unemployment and foreclosure rates and economic uncertainty and upheaval.  At times, if the truth be told, President Obama has looked frustrated over the tackling of these issues.  And quite frankly, who wouldn’t be frustrated?  I’m sure Dr. King also experienced times of frustration.  Yet, he never looked weary nor gave up the fight.  And fight is what Americans, and particularly African Americans, want President Obama to do.

Congressman Elijah Cummings (D. MD) appeared on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley on Sunday and expressed some views of the African American community concerning President Obama. Rep. Cummings, in speaking about his district in Baltimore with 40% Black male unemployment,  shared that African Americans want the President to stand up to the Republicans and don’t back down.  They want him to get out there and fight.

And it is time for President Obama to put on the gloves and fight. Imagine if Dr. King had back down from the fights of the civil rights era. Would African Americans have made significant strides in civil and equal rights?

And no one expects or should expect President Obama to be the second coming of Martin Luther King.  But, it is time that he put on the gloves and fights for all the things he campaigned on. The words of Rep. John Lewis (D. GA), also a civil rights fighter, “don’t give up, don’t give in and don’t give out” should resonate now with President Obama.  Let’s hope when President Obama comes back from his Martha’s Vineyard vacation that he comes out fighting and doesn’t stop until he gets the job done that he set out to do.  If he does, that will be his greatest legacy and ultimate measure of his character.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer and legal and political commentator. She has appeared frequently in the media, including the Michael Eric Dyson show, XM Sirius radio, CBS and NBC Washington, DC affiliates, among others.  She also contributes to the Huffington Post.



5 Reasons Why President Obama Should Be Taking a Vacation

Friday, August 19th, 2011

President Obama

With the economy tanking and unemployment soaring, particularly among African Americans with almost double the nation’s average, should President Obama be taking a 10 day vacation at this time, is the question being asked in the 24 hour news cycle.  And the answers seem to go against the President.  There are 5 reasons why President Obama should be taking a vacation.

President Obama is a father to 2 young girls and a husband.  He does not give up those titles by becoming President of the U.S. He deserves to spend family time with them on a vacation.  As for choice of vacation he does not have a family home in Crawford, Texas or Kennebunk, Maine to go to. But, choice of where to spend his vacation seems secondary to the issue. For some, no vacation is in order.

With Congress on extended leave since immediately after the debt deal was passed until September 5, there is little he can accomplish in the next 10 days to fix the economy and jobs situation.  Calling back Congress to work and remaining here would only cause more contention and gridlock. Nothing would be accomplished except bickering.

Let’s be clear that the President is not really away from work as some people think.  He’s not just sipping slurpees and ice cream cones, golfing and goofing off. He is always the President and Commander in Chief. And he will be working and briefed daily on the issues of the day with his staff. If a national emergency occurs during his time away, I am sure this President will return to Washington to deal with it, unlike his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, who stayed on vacation during the Hurricane Katrina crisis; And unlike Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who stayed in Disney World while the 2010 snow storm engulfed his state.

President Obama, like all previous presidents, needs a vacation to refresh and recharge.  Some down time is needed for even presidents and heads of states. And the reason for the down time is to be able to return with clearer and better decision making powers.  We certainly don’t want our President to be weary and worn out without any time off.  That benefits no one.

Time away from the Washington area can only be good for the President to be able to return in 10 days and focus on the jobs issues.  And no matter where he took a vacation, he would have been criticized.

Where does President Obama stack up with his predecessor in terms of time off? Well, Pres. George W. Bush had taken 180 days by this time in his presidency, including time off during the Hurricane Katrina crisis in New Orleans, compared to 61 days for Pres. Obama.  And while President Bush was taking off all that time, he was also the one who caused our present economic difficulties. They are a direct result of his actions while in office. So if anyone should have foregone a vacation while in office, it should have been George W. Bush.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a legal and political commentator who is seen frequently in the media addressing issues on race and gender.  She also contributes to the Huffington Post.

Rick Perry’s Childlike Remarks on Treason

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Either Rick Perry doesn’t know the meaning of treason or doesn’t care.  Either way, already it’s been less than 1 week since he made his announcement for presidential candidate and he’s making blunders.  Perry was quoted as saying that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would be committing a “treasonous” act by printing more money to boost the economy.  President Obama gave Mr. Perry  some slack citing it was early in the campaign.  Members of both parties were not as kind.  Tony Fratto, a Republican and former Treasury Department official under former President George W. Bush called the remark “inappropriate and unpresidential.”

Does Perry understand the crime of treason? His remarks reminded me of a child who says things while using the words incorrectly. But, since Perry is no child, I’ll just chalk it up to ignorance of the definition of the term “treason”. To compare Bernanke’s work as Federal Reserve Chairman to an act of treason trivializes the act and crime of treason. It also further helps to incite an already ignitable Tea Party faction who have proven in the past to be devoid of understanding  the Constitution and law. A presidential candidate should be more familiar with the US Constitution.

So to set the record straight, here’s the definition of treason. Simply put, the US Constitution, Article III says treason is the offense of attempting to overthrow our country by giving aid to our enemies. It is punishable by death. Treason is reserved for those who commit the most heinous non-allegiance crimes against our country. It is usually reserved for spies who trade secrets with other countries against us.

Mr. Bernanke will not be guilty of treason if he “prints” more money to boost the economy. But, Mr. Perry could be guilty of slander if he continues to falsely and wrongly accuse persons of committing the most heinous crime  against our country.  Perhaps, in the future, Mr. Perry should carry a copy of the Constitution and read it before citing from it.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a legal and political commentator who is frequently seen in the media. She also contributes to the Huffington Post.

Missing Black Women Go Unnoticed in the Media

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011
Phylicia Barnes

Phylicia Barnes

The media coverage of the case of the 35 year old missing Maryland woman in Aruba reminds me once again how the media fails to report the cases of missing black women. No, the woman missing in Aruba is not African American.  If she were African American or some other minority, I doubt if the mainstream media would cover the story.

Why does race matter in cases of missing women and girls? It should not matter but apparently to the media, it’s an important fact. Countless numbers of African American women and girls go missing, but the mainstream media either doesn’t care to notice or report on them.  Take for instance, the case of missing North Carolina 16 year old Phylicia Barnes, who went missing while visiting relatives in Baltimore over the Christmas holiday in 2010.  Phylicia was an honors student, who was graduating one year earlier and had plans to attend college.  Early on, the Baltimore detectives practically begged the national media to report on and cover her case.  Baltimore police spokesperson, Anthony   Gugliemi stated:

“I don’t know why this case is any different that the Natalee Holloway case. ” “The only exception is that Phylicia was in Baltimore and she’s from North Carolina,”  “America rallied around Natalee and CNN aired hourly updates. In my case, I’m just asking that [Phylicia’s] picture be put up and it be noted that she’s missing and in danger.”

Barnes’ case was the most intensive investigation of a missing person by the Baltimore police in years. Except for a few segments on national television after constant prodding by the Baltimore detectives, national media rarely covered her case. Four months later, she was found dead, the result of a homicide.

The lack of coverage of black women and girls is not intended to take away from coverage of any other woman or girl who goes missing.   For all the faces of missing women, like Natalie Holloway or Elizabeth Smart and now  missing Robyn Gardner in Aruba, there are countless unnamed and unseen faces of African American women and girls who go missing without a trace of media coverage. Except for local cases covered on local stations, there is no coverage.  When was the last time anyone saw a missing African American woman reported on national media or headline news?

Race matters in missing women cases.  And Black women who are missing should matter to the media. If they did, perhaps, Phylicia Barnes would be alive today.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a legal and political commentator who appears frequently in the media on issues on women and race. She also contributes to the Huffington Post. She is a former Baltimore prosecutor.