The Hightower Report

New Georgia driver license law keeps poor folks down; and family-owned businesses put people ahead of profits


THE NEW POLL TAX

Anyone younger than 40 will not remember that many Americans – mostly in the South – used to have to pay to vote. It was called the "poll tax," and the unvarnished purpose of this $1.50 assessment was to price poor people (especially poor African-Americans) out of the voting booth.

But the Supreme Court struck down this ugly economic barrier to the ballot box in 1966, so that was that, right? Wrong! Never underestimate the creativity of the right-wingers and selfish money powers who're determined to keep poor folks down in order to keep themselves on top.

Georgia has taken the lead in this modern-day race to the political bottom. Led by Gov. Sonny Perdue, a know-nothing piece of nastiness, the Republican majority in the Legislature has pushed through a new law taxing poor people who want to vote. The law requires that anyone without a driver license must pay $20 for a state ID card in order to get into a voting booth. Guess which groups in Georgia are least likely to have driver licenses: the poor, the black, and the elderly – or all of the above.

Well, says Gov. Sonny, this is all about the sanctity of the vote – stopping ineligible people from getting into the booth. Yet, Georgia's top election official says she can't even find one case of such fraud in recent years. Instead, most voter fraud involves absentee ballots, which tend to be cast by Republicans. Guess what? Absentee voters are not covered by the new ID requirement.

Even uglier, the state is not selling its voter ID cards in areas where poor, black, and elderly folks mostly live, so they would have to travel out-of-county to buy one. The city of Atlanta, for example, has no location selling the cards!

Georgia's ID law is a disgraceful, un-American act of voter exclusion. If it stands, you can expect this revived poll tax to come to your state. To fight it, call the ACLU: 888/567-ACLU.


STEAK HOUSE ETHICS

If you want to see the difference between the ethics of a family-owned company that's grounded in a community and the ethics of a corporate-owned chain grounded in nothing more solid that maximizing its own profits, look at Ruth's Chris Steak House.

Ruth Fertel is the namesake of this business. In 1965, she mortgaged her house in New Orleans for an $18,000 loan to buy the original steak house. Just three months later, Hurricane Betsy ripped through the area, cutting off power all across the city. Ruth began cooking up steaks over a gas stove and giving them away to victims of the storm and to relief workers.

New Orleans is a tight community, and people gratefully remembered her commitment. Besides, she cooked great steaks, so her business flourished and expanded into other cities. But Ruth Fertel died in 2002, and outside shareholders took control of the steakhouses, which are now run by bottom-line corporate executives.

In recent weeks, the corporate Ruth's was hit by Hurricane Katrina. Did the new execs man gas stoves and give away steaks? Ha! The two top honchos bolted from their chain's founding city, jetting away with their spouses to Orlando, where they each own second homes. In this dry and safe haven, they decided to desert New Orleans for good. As the city's poor people were trapped in the unbelievable horror of the flood, the steak-house moguls were negotiating in Orlando to get tax subsidies for relocating Ruth's headquarters there.

While loyalty is not a virtue in Corporate World, it still counts for something in such family-owned businesses as New Orleans' Brennan's Restaurant. It took a hit from Katrina, too, but Brad Brennan says his businesses will soon reopen in the Big Easy: "When they give you your start," he says, "you kind of owe it to the city. Payback is staying your ground and employing the people that want to remain there." Ruth Fertel would've known exactly what Brad meant.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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