In the middle of the worst crisis of our lifetimes, the Texas Senate has thrown its full energies into solving a problem that doesn’t exist! Even the Dallas daily paper, usually as anti-worker as any mainstream press, ended their lead editorial with “Someone should end this charade.”

They referred to the “Voter-ID” bill that was passed by Republicans in the Texas Senate on March 11 with a precise partisan vote. If it is also passed by the state House, it will require all Texas voters to present a state-provided picture identification card in addition to their registration card. Thousands of blind, disabled, and older voters would thus be required to buy these cards or quit voting. The Republican Lieutenant Governor, David Dewhurst, maneuvered to suspend Senate rules specifically to pass this particular bill.

Union spokespersons say that the Republicans are trying to impose a new poll tax to restrict voting rights. The Republicans say that they are trying to stop “massive voter fraud” when imposters, specifically Latino immigrants, illegally impersonate voters. The problem with their argument is that, despite years of effort entailing millions of dollars, Republicans haven’t been able to find a single incident of any imposter voting in any Texas election!

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has already been shamed by his failure to find any of his highly-touted “massive voter fraud,” was conspicuously absent from the Senate discussions, according to the Texas AFL-CIO.

One of the many people who traveled to the state capitol in Austin was Texas Alliance for Retired Americans President Annie Banks, a retired teacher. According to the Texas AFL-CIO, Banks traveled from Houston, then waited 23 hours in the capitol, though the night of March 11, to give her testimony.

On the day after the Senate’s action, the Ft Worth newspaper ran the story of a 97-year old African American woman who had already made three separate attempts to get a picture-id from the state, and had been turned down every time!

The worst part of the debacle isn’t in most reports: the state’s unemployment trust fund, doling out unprecedented amounts in recent months, is running out of money while the legislature dawdles! Last year, despite gathering economic storm clouds, Governor Perry pushed through a cut in the employers’ tax for the fund. This year, it is clear that the legislature will have to borrow money, and pay interest, to keep the fund going. Texas cannot qualify for the $555 million in federal stimulus money for the unemployed unless the state legislature acts to update its rigid anti-worker qualifications. Presently, an unemployed Texas worker has less chance of actually receiving any unemployment benefits than workers in any other state. Several politicians, including Perry, have made it clear that they want to keep it that way!

Why would Governor Perry, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst, and Attorney General Abbott disgrace themselves and the state so thoroughly? A good answer came from Austin political expert Harvey Kronberg during the Texas AFL-CIO Legislative Conference on January 28. He said that right wingers are positioning themselves to win the Texas Republican primary elections in 2010. He expects U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson to resign her seat in order to run for Governor against Perry. Dewhurst, Abbott, and others are likely preparing themselves to run for Hutchinson’s Senate seat. The Texas Republican primary is a small election, with usually fewer than 600,000 voters in a state of over 20 million people. Republican candidates do not care what the general public, or the world, thinks of them as long as they can win that small race – and the key is to be the most right wing of all the candidates!

By pushing the nonsensical “voter-ID” legislation and ignoring the suffering of the unemployed, Texas Republicans are grasping for power!

–Jim Lane,