Story by Jacob Hamilton
Voting is as American as apple pie, which is why the specific issue of voting rights and different schemes employed to prevent people from voting should be more of a national issue, complained former United States senator John Breaux on Monday.
Serving Louisiana three terms, from 1987 until 2005, Breaux illustrated the voting rights issue with the case of Texas utilizing a loop hole to get Ted Cruz elected to the Senate.
Cruz’s opponent, former Texas lieutenant governor David Dewhurst, was expected to win the 2012 primary race, but when the primary election was moved from March to the end of May fewer people voted. Dewhurst was forced into a runoff against Cruz, for which the turnout was even lower, noted Breaux, and those who did show up were hardcore Cruz supporters.
“We now have Ted Cruz as a United States Senator and now a major candidate on the Republican side in the presidential race all because the folks who ran the election cycles geared the election to help Cruz.”
Breaux was the keynote speaker at a two-day symposium in his name which is conducted by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at the Manship School of Mass Communication. The focus of this year’s event is political participation in the United States 51 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Breaux commended a public spotlight on voting rights, because he said, Congress won’t pass legislation to counteract efforts preventing and discriminating against people voting if the media doesn’t raise awareness, he said.
“Congress doesn’t lead in many cases. Congress reacts to public pressure. How is public pressure created? Journalists, in most cases, are able to bring the issue to the public’s attention so that the public then becomes outraged. They start complaining to Congress, and all of a sudden Congress wakes up.”
Breaux warned that the gerrymandering of congressional districts continues to be a mainstay in today’s political system, and it’s partially responsible for the stalemate in Congress.
Known for collaborative efforts during his stint in Congress, Breaux said members of Congress don’t consult with one another or work to reach agreements between two parties in a way they were when he was in the Senate. Today, he said, many vote straight party lines because they often come from “safe” districts, with 65 to 70 percent of voters registered to their party.
“It’s had a real negative effect on the ability of the Congress to work in the way they were able to work in the past …There’s no need to work across party lines because of the gerrymandering of congressional districts, which I think is very, very bad.”