Today, the Arkansas House passed SB2, the Voter ID bill, by a vote of 51-44. This is a victory for proponents of election integrity. More importantly, it’s a victory for the people of Arkansas, who have a right to fair, honest elections.
The day was not without tomfoolery, however. Just after noon, the House Rules Committee considered whether or not the bill required a supermajority vote (see our previous coverage here). They correctly determined that it did not, and the bill was transferred back to the full House.
The House took up the bill this afternoon, but a few Democrat legislators weren’t going to let is pass quietly. Rep. Butch Wilkins aggressively questioned Rep. Stephen Meeks, who presented the measure. In his questioning, he asked Rep. Meeks if he understood how easy it is to get a fake ID — a question that appears to be at some tension with the notion that requiring an ID to vote is an imposition.
Then Rep. John Walker rose to speak against the bill. His remarks were bizarre, and not only because they contained racial overtones. I encourage you to listen to the remarks for yourself in the video below. He began by saying he really wished he was not there and that “most of you [legislators] who sit here don’t have my color.” He said proponents of voter ID were “taking a metal instrument and wielding it in a way to take away a fundamental right.” He said voter ID was intended to “repress presentation and representation.”
He continued by expressing his disappointment with the female legislators that had signed on to support the bill, although it was unclear why. Seeming to admit that voter fraud is real, Rep. Walker said fraud “happens all the time in business,” but “we don’t talk about shutting them down.” “The poll tax was aimed at me,” Walker said.
And in conclusion, he offered this:
The only thing it does…is it sends a message to me and Representative Armstrong, Williams, others that we are not really your peers. That our people whom we represent are not as important as your people and therefore we have to take what you give. We’ve come too far to allow the right to vote to be so compromised.
To hear Rep. Walker speak, you might think he only represents his black constituents and the white representatives only represent their white constituents.
After concluding his remarks, Rep. Walker fielded a few questions. The first was from Rep. Butch Wilkins who asked about voter turnout being consistently low in Arkansas. In the midst of his response, Rep. Walker said “We’re not going to have another Obama for a long time.” It was unclear, at least to me, what that comment had to do with voter ID or the question he was asked.
(Also, if Rep. Wilkins is interested in increasing turnout, he should have supported this bill: voter ID has significantly increased turnout in many of the states it has been adopted.)
The next question was from Rep. Jim Nickels who asked Rep. Walker to give “a lesson on the Emancipation Proclamation.” Again, it was less than clear what this inquiry had to do with the issue at hand. And here I was thinking we had already settled the question of whether or not we are all created equally…To his credit, Rep. Walker restrained himself at this point and mostly ignored Nickels’s invitation.
Some of you may remember Rep. Walker’s comments from a few weeks ago that raised some eyebrows: the House was honoring a Little Rock resident who recently competed on Jeopardy. Walker took to the well to allege to colleagues that many of them would consider this young man a threat because, well, he has a large afro. “Remember that,” Walker said.
Representative Walker is a smart man. In fact, just this morning I was telling a friend how intelligent Mr. Walker is, and how he should not be underestimated. With that said, his speech today was not his finest hour. Voter ID applies to everyone equally regardless of color or creed. Thanks to its passage, every person of every color and creed can be more confident in our election process. It truly saddens me that Rep. Walker sees so many issues through the lens of race in a country that has now, as he acknowledged, twice elected a black president. I respect Mr. Walker’s convictions, but I think it is appropriate to remind him of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Isn’t it time we live up to that charge? Isn’t it time that we stop looking for a racist behind every rock and judge people based on their character? If Rep. Walker wants to oppose voter ID and his heart tells him he should, then he should do it. But his accusations of racism are not based on logic, fact, or reason. In fact, many would argue that such accusations are in themselves racist because they single out whites and ascribe unflattering motives to them. I’d say it’s time we move past this type of divisive demagoguery. The people of Arkansas deserve better.
You can view all of Rep. Walker’s comments and the full debate on the voter ID bill here at the Arkansas House website.