Is Sue headed for ‘Who’s Who’?
by Emanuel County Live | November 30, 2005 12:00 am
When the Who’s Who of the civil rights movement is finally compiled, readers may find a surprising name included.
Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, will surely be recognized in the volume that will include Rosa Parks, Dr. M. L. King Jr., John Lewis and others. Burmeister will be cited for her amazing effort to ensure extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Frankly, until now we had dismissed Rep. Burmeister as just another wing-nut, best remembered for her fanatical support of indicted school superintendent Linda Schrenko. We were wrong.
Burmeister apparently kept her true mission hidden, just like a latter-day Valerie Plame, without the Scooter Libby component.
Now Burmeister has cast aside her disguise as merely another airhead in the Gold Dome. Last week she burst upon the national stage and newspaper front pages with her observation that down around Augusta, “Blacks only vote when paid, and if fewer vote, there is less fraud.”
At first, we were astounded. “Surely, no reasonable person holding public office today in the South would make such a statement,” we said.
We were wrong again.
As expected, Burmeister claimed those lying Atlanta newspapers “misrepresented” what she said.
We checked and double-checked. The AJC picked up the story from the Washington Post, which reproduced an official U.S. Department of Justice memo. We went directly to the memo, which stated:
“Rep. Burmeister said if there are fewer black voters because of this [Voter ID] bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud. She said that when black voters in her black precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls.”
The DOJ paper suggests that she must have said it all right — or else President Bush’s Justice Department just plain lied. Surely, a good Bushite like Sue doesn’t believe that.
Burmeister’s sentiments came to light when the feds reviewed Georgia’s new Voter ID act, which critics say is meant to suppress black voter turnout. Burmeister along with state Sen. Cecil Staton, who is Zell Miller’s book publisher, jointly sponsored the Voter ID bill that sailed to passage in the GOP-controlled House. Many incensed black lawmakers walked out during the debate.
However, the lady from Augusta finds herself swimming in a much bigger political pond than the Georgia House.
Until Burmeister’s statement, some Southern congressmen had engaged in reasoned debate on whether the pre-clearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act should be extended.
The pre-clearance provision, enacted during the heyday of George Wallace and Ross Barnett, and Georgia’s own Lester Maddox, required any legislation affecting the voting rights of minorities to be first screened and approved by the Department of Justice before it could go into effect.
The Voting Rights Act, including the pre-clearance section, was passed as a national reaction to the beating of civil rights leader John Lewis and others on what is now called “Bloody Sunday,” when blacks marched to enforce a hundred-year-old promise of the right to vote. Helmeted Alabama state troopers, encouraged by rebel-flag-waving “heritage” supporters, were so brutal in their reaction to the peaceable demonstration that the entire nation recoiled in shock and reacted by passing the Voting Rights Act with its preclearance requirement.
The Voting Rights Act is up for renewal, and some Southerners are trying to make the case — some say with effectiveness — that the South of 1965 is no more. We have learned our lesson, they said, and we can be trusted now. Then Sue Burmeister spoke.
With her reinforcing the stereotype of bigoted Southerners despising blacks and willing to do anything to keep them from voting, Burmeister’s callous statement is reminiscent of a bygone era, or is it?
That is the question with which Congress will be confronted in its decision on whether to keep Georgia and the South under the yoke of pre-clearance and prior approval. The smart bet is that Rep. Burmeister tipped the scales in favor of extension.
She must have known what she was doing. Not even a member of the Georgia Legislature could be so dumb as to believe such talk would be shrugged off.
So, move over, Dr. King. Make way, John Lewis. Sue Burmeister may step into history as the Georgian who did most to extend the Voting Rights Act.—You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org