Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dave's trophy: suppressing the vote

A fable:

Good-guy Dave was a steady sort. He wasn't prone to excess. To that end, he saved his nickels and dimes. One day he counted all of his change: $503.

Dave thought of the needs facing his family: a rusted-out water heater, a creaky A/C window unit, worn brake pads in the family's second-hand car.

He told his wife he was off to spend the money. All day she wondered what vital need he had addressed.

In town he passed a taxidermy shop and fell in love with a moose head in the window. He bought it for $495 and change.

"We need a new water heater and brake pads," he told his flabbergasted wife. "But this handsome head over my mantel everyone will see."

The next day she left the idiot.

I'm not going to call Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst an idiot. But for a good guy, he has just spent his political currency on a wacky impulse buy: Senate passage of the so-called Voter ID Bill.

All this time, six years as the chamber's presiding officer, he's been carefully storing up political capital. Now, to address a crisis no one can really identify, he has bought himself a moose head.

You think when you become a statewide elected official you will reach that moment when you put it all on the line — do it for something that will make a great state greater, or at least replace its brakes.

For Dewhurst, apparently this was that.

He announced at the start of this session that he would set aside the so-called rule of 21 — requiring two-thirds consent in the Senate to get a bill on the floor — to vote on a bill requiring photo identification for voters.

That issue might stir you as you imagine illegal aliens and dead Democrats on the loose and voting. But the issue is so overblown as to have blown up in Attorney General Greg Abbott's face.

Abbott launched a massive dragnet to find voter fraud, using a $1.4 million federal grant. Result: In the whole state of Texas, 23 million strong, which we all like to say is like a country, Abbott prosecuted 26 people for voter fraud — most for illegally voting by mail (A photo ID would have achieved what in these cases?)

Twenty-six. Mon dieu. Can the republic endure?

For this crisis, Dewhurst dumped a long-standing Senate rule into the Rio Colorado and occupied an entire day of proceedings, stretching into an all-night affair.

Whatever reputation of statesmanship and bipartisanship he might have established, Dewhurst showed that he could be a good Republican operative just like Gov. Rick Perry.

Voter ID, like the second-time-in-a-decade congressional redistricting that paralyzed the Legislature in 2003, is an initiative straight from the GOP home office in — uh, it used to be Washington. The Grand Caymans?

Just as redistricting was meant to harvest more congressional seats for the Republicans, voter ID is meant to produce fewer Democratic votes. Poor and elderly people are those most likely to lack the photo identification this bill would require. They also are more likely to vote Democrat.

Throughout Dewhurst's tenure he has shown reserve and just a touch of detachment about the hyperpartisanship which so often beset the Texas House, and that which has driven our governor.

He blew it all last week.

Now, it may be that stopping the Senate dead for this bill was the highest use he thought could come from Texas' most respected deliberative body. But I'm thinking basically that Dewhurst came into this session thinking he wanted a set of nostrils to display to fellow partisans.

All for the greater good of the great state of Texas.

John Young's column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail:

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