Nancy Pelosi Touts Voting Rights in Eastside Swing

U.S. House speaker stops in Austin to promote new anti-corruption legislation

Nancy Pelosi and Lloyd Doggett
Nancy Pelosi and Lloyd Doggett (Photo by Michael King)

Visiting Austin to appear at the Travis County Democratic Party's Johnson Bentsen Richards Dinner Monday night, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the opportunity at a Tuesday press conference with Rep. Lloyd Doggett to promote House Bill 1 – the first bill introduced by the new Congress – to promote campaign finance reform, ethics reform, and expansion of voting rights. It was the third of these that got the most attention before an audience (at the Springdale General studio complex) of a couple hundred enthusiastic supporters and a brace of Democratic dignitaries, among them: former state Senator Wendy Davis, Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy, former state Rep. Glen Maxey, and Travis County Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant.

Doggett introduced Julieta Garibay of United We Dream and Mimi Marziani of the Texas Civil Rights Project, fresh from their victory in federal court over the bogus "noncitizen voter" list generated by Texas Secretary of State David Whitley. Doggett noted that today, March 7, marks the anniversary of the 1965 Selma march – when voting-rights activists were attacked by a mob at the Edmund Pettus Bridge – and placed current GOP efforts to "purge" voters instead of "urging" voting in that same anti-democratic tradition.

Garibay spoke (in English and Spanish) of her personal journey as an immigrant and naturalized citizen from Mexico who ended up on Whitley's list, while Marziani itemized various legal tools of suppression – from adopting rules to criminalize "improper" voter registration to shirking requirements to engage new potential voters (e.g., high school students). Doggett also offered Justin Nelson, the recent Democratic nominee for Texas attorney general, a moment to denounce the "partisan gerrymandering" that has dismembered Austin into six U.S. House districts, with local voters comprising a majority in none of them.

Pelosi finally took the lectern to describe H.R. 1 as anchored in "respect" for democracy over "cynicism" about government fueled by special interests and dark political money. She directly connected the legislation to H.R. 4, which would re-establish Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and consequently restore power to Section 5; the latter requires jurisdictions shown to discriminate – identified by criteria once laid out in 4(b) – to be ­precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice before implementing any changes to their voter laws. (Responding to a later question, Pelosi said current hearings will be "laying the constitutional basis" for a return to preclearance.)

Pelosi asked whether her GOP colleagues, should they meet the Founding Fathers in the afterlife, would be proud to declare, "I did everything in my power to suppress the vote." She said she welcomes the debate, because there is substantial public support for voting rights, and quoted Abraham Lincoln: "Public sentiment is everything." In closing, she even cited Ronald Reagan on the importance of the U.S.'s "immigrant heritage," adding her own flourish: "Newcomers make America more American."

Pelosi took a few questions from reporters before she and Doggett headed back to D.C. She said the House would continue to press forward without basing its actions ("deeds, not words") on what might happen in the Senate, and pointed to the now-likely Senate passage of Rep. Joaquin Castro's resolution rejecting President Trump's declaration of a national emergency as evidence that the Democratic strategy is working. "We're going to restore confidence in government," she said.

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Nancy Pelosi, Lloyd Doggett, voting rights, Wendy Davis, Rick Levy, Glen Maxey, Bruce Elfant, Juliet Garibay, Mimi Marziani, Joaquin Castro, Justin Nelson, Voting Rights Act of 1965

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