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The GOP and outreach; Dealing with the new voter photo ID law

In the souvenir program for its annual Lincoln Day Gala, the Shelby County GOP listed as the third platform of its principles a commitment to “Reject divisive racial tactics of any kind.

by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

In the souvenir program for its annual Lincoln Day Gala, the Shelby County GOP listed as the third platform of its principles a commitment to “Reject divisive racial tactics of any kind.”  

The book’s cover features a button shot of GOP legend (now U.S. Sen.) Lamar Alexander. Turn the page and the first face you see is state Sen. Mark Norris, whose name is practically a scourge among many liberal and African-American politicians. Trace that reaction to the myriad and varied legislative moves Norris has spearheaded in the Tennessee General Assembly as the Senate Majority Leader.

 While Justin Joy, the local Republican Party chairman, was not asked to address Norris’ actions directly, The New Tri-State Defender did forwarded him a specific question that a number of TSD readers have asked: How does the party plan to stem the alienation black voters feel whenever a Republican is mentioned?

 “I believe the basic Republican message of personal responsibility and that individuals, not government, make the best decisions for themselves and their families, is a message that resonates with Americans, regardless of their race or background,” Joy answered. “While the Republican Party has been using traditional as well as new media to get this message out, we are also looking for other ways to reach out to voters. For instance, I appreciated the opportunity to address students at a NAACP event at LeMoyne-Owen College last year at a very informative forum on engaging young people in the political process.

“As the ways in which we communicate change, we have to continue to look for new ways to reach out to all Americans, regardless of their age, race or background.”

* *

In January, Tennessee’s new photo voter ID law went into full effect, with those who want to cast ballots now required to have government-issued photo identification.

The change is being watched warily by many, including local Democratic Party Chairman Van Turner, who quotes a former slave and abolitionist in his reflection on the new law, its possible effect and what mindset would be needed to uproot it.

 “For me, I think of what Fredrick Douglas said. ‘No one is going to give it to you, you got to go out and take it.’ If you want change you have to go out and make the change,” said Turner.

“We will have to see when the overall numbers come in if it (the photo voter ID law) has been damaging, but I think that people that care about the overall process will make sure their records are in order,” said Turner.

“My fear is that those who are not aware will come out to vote for the president and not be able to because they have not been informed. But my hope is that since this is a presidential election year the excitement about President Obama will remain, and we will have turnout numbers as impressive for his re-election as we did for his first election.

“That will stem the effect of the Voter ID law some, but it is being challenged by the Justice Department in North Carolina. I just hope we will continue to work to ensure fair elections without all these tricks one day.”

Here are Joy’s thoughts about the effect of the new law:

“Particularly for the elections later this year in August and November, I don’t believe that anyone, and especially anyone who reads the newspaper, is going to have a reasonable excuse that they did not know about the new law or that they haven’t had an opportunity to comply with the law,” he said.

“No election is perfect but I think we all want a system where everyone’s vote counts and no one’s vote is canceled out by someone who should not be voting. We have to show photo identification to prove who we are for all kinds of things in today’s world, many of which are not nearly as important as voting. By requiring that people prove their identity with a photo ID card in order to vote, I think we are increasing confidence in the election system.”

‘Twang of high drama’

One race that does have that usual Memphis twang of high drama is the contest for General Sessions Court Clerk.  Incumbent Otis Jackson is facing a legal issue after being indicted. He is accused of strong arming employees in the clerk’s office to raise money for his campaign.

Jackson’s re-election bid is part of his response to the indictment. He maintains his innocence. Six challengers look to take him out, including local heavyweight Sidney Chism, presently county Commissioner and long time Democratic Party operator.  

Independent Patricia McWright Jackson will be on the ballot, but due to her non-party affiliation will be included on the August 2 general election ballot.


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