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Matt Pommer: Mr. Lincoln's party makes some shudder

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Matt Pommer
March 31, 2014

Gov. Scott Walker, moving to cement Republican control of Wisconsin government, has vowed to call a special legislative session, if necessary, to enact a constitutional system of requiring voters to produce photo IDs or other identification before balloting.

The threat came in the wake of a state Supreme Court hearing on an earlier-enacted ID law. The constitutionality of that law has been challenged in state and federal courts. A conservative member of the state high court raised concerns about that law.

Conservative politicians had been banking on the conservative court majority to approve the enacted law. The dialogue hinted that the high court might not be a lap dog for the Republican-controlled government.

Perhaps the threat of a special session was just a reminder from Walker to the conservative justices on what was expected of them.

Earlier, Walker contended Wisconsin had significant voting fraud. Alas, that never was proved. Now Walker says he'll press forward because “people” want the ID law. The people who really want the provisions are Republican political types.

Requiring a driver's license or other form of identification has been seen as a way to discourage voting by minorities and the poor—folks who tend to vote Democratic.

Clearly Republican legislators don't need to discourage voting. They have created legislative districts that should assure GOP legislative majorities through 2022. Walker has won two statewide elections under the existing election rules. He has name identification and lots of campaign cash on hand.

Republicans also have championed legislation to limit the hours and days for absentee balloting, something that also could reduce the overall voter turnout in Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Madison. That would also help assure Walker wins a second term as governor.

The voter suppression is different than when Tommy Thompson was the Republican governor. Then there was a bipartisan consensus that government should encourage voting.

Is there more to the Republican efforts than just trying to put a thumb on the scales of democracy before the November election?

Talk-show remarks by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Janesville Republican, hinted at racially insensitive attitudes among conservatives. He said there's a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

That touched off a firestorm of criticism, and Ryan retreated, saying he was “not implicating the culture of one community.” Rather he said America has “allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people in our communities.”

Republicans have long struggled with issues affecting minorities. Earlier this year, Ryan said the GOP-controlled House of Representatives would not advance immigration legislation because Republicans “do not trust” President Obama on implementing changes. Critics suggested the real reason for no immigration bill in the House was because Republicans were badly divided on the issue.

Ryan and Walker have been considered potential presidential candidates for Republicans in 2016. Ryan was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012. Walker has spent significant time talking to conservative groups across the country, basking in his success of dismantling public-employee unions in Wisconsin.

Walker also has attracted conservative support by rejecting hundreds of millions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage of the poor in Wisconsin, many of them probably people of color.

Some may shudder that Walker and Ryan are leaders in the party of Abraham Lincoln. But historians will note that Mr. Lincoln's place in history came from ending slavery and saving the Union. Voting issues in the late 19th century would eventually be left to the states.

Lincoln himself had pondered the idea of encouraging freed slaves to return to Africa but never advanced the idea.

Matt Pommer writes this Wisconsin Newspaper Association weekly state government newsletter. He is dean of the state Capitol correspondents, having covered government action in Madison for 36 years. Readers can contact Pommer at mpommer@sbcglobal.net.



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