Jealous criticized what he called “withering attacks on the issue of voter registration,” including in Florida, and said he hoped the GOP “one day looks more like the party of [Abraham] Lincoln and less like a creation of the modern day tea party movement.”
Florida’s voting reform law, signed last year by Gov. Rick Scott, came under particular attack during the call. Jealous said the law has led to “people being threatened with fines or jail time if they turned in a [voter registration] form more than 48 hours after taking it up,” including NAACP volunteers who registered voters over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in January.
Scott, who will skip the RNC convention due to the approach of Hurricane Ivan, was also sharply criticized for signing the voter law, and for reimposing restrictions on former felons regaining their right to vote — reversing the easing of those rules by two previous Republican administrations in Florida: Governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist.
“We had a governor wipe away all of the years of struggle to achieve the Voting Rights Act,” Florida NAACP chair Adora Obi Nweze said. “We are just given more and more barriers to not being able to vote, with our early vote days being cut down, with the Sunday before Election Day being cut out [of the early voting period] by the governor.”
“When we look at the Republican convention being here” in Florida, Obi Nweze continued, “we wonder … why wouldn’t they want everybody to have the opportunity to vote?”
Jealous cited accusations by former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer, who, during depositions in his trial on corruption charges, accused members of his party of “specific conversations about suppressing the black vote,” along with “other Republicans who have said voter ID would help Romney win.”
“If you look at everything that has been attacked: voter registration, early voting, insisting people bring a state-issued ID, the re-disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people … it’s clear that the intent here is to impact the black vote disproportionately,” Jealous said.
Beyond Florida, Jealous said, “we have this issue of voting rights where we seem to be at odds with Republican governors.”
“Forty-nine years ago, Americans came together and said that for America to be great, the moral and political issues of voting rights, economic justice and justice before the courts had to be at the center of the conversation,” said Rev. William Barber II, who heads the North Carolina NAACP.
“During that time there was an ultra conservative, extreme reaction to that agenda, to try and make the status quo a reality again. Forty-nine years later, as the two parties convene [their conventions], ironically both in the south, [we see] an extreme reactionary agenda again,” Barber said, dismissing Republican concerns about voter fraud as a “solution in search of a problem,” and calling the push for voter ID laws “the most aggressive onslaught against voting rights that we’ve seen since the march on Washington.”
“What we find is that there are persons who do not believe they can win when the electorate is broadened,” Barber said. “We have seen it in our history before, we’re seeing it again. … It’s nothing but a modern day poll tax.”
“One of the discussions they’re having that’s very frightening, is they’re talking about reducing the federal government in allowing states to decide how they’ll administer education, healthcare, voting rights,” Obi Nweze said of Republicans in congress. “The reason it’s so frightening is that had it not been for the federal government, we would have had no arm to turn to, to even get those rights. … The states would never have given them to us on their own.”
Black Republicans seen as disconnected from NAACP
As to whether black Republicans would be a part of the dialogue the NAACP hopes to have at the RNC this week, those on the call did not sound hopeful.
Obi Nweze said the delegation has talked to Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, but it was clear to the NAACP that she lacked the authority to act. And she said the NAACP’s relationship with Allen West, one of two black Republicans in Congress, ended when he was uninvited to speak at an NAACP event due to his charge that 87 progressive Democratic members of congress are Communists.
As for the other Black GOP member of the House, Shelton said the NAACP has requested meetings with South Carolina Republican Rep. Tim Scott, but that he has not been responsive.
Added Jealous: “Tim Scott has put up a wall between him and the NAACP that even Newt Gingrich hasn’t.”
Barber said that the real test of the success of both conventions “is not the balloons and the speakers, but … which platform presents a vision for our country that will address the issues of economic justice, equality, voting rights, labor rights and healthcare.”
“It is interesting that just as jobs and education and voting rights and civil rights were on the agenda 49 years ago, we still find those things necessary to fight for today,” Barber added. “We must demand of each convention that they not be pushed to the back rooms or the quiet rooms. They must be front and center. Otherwise, to not address these issues renders all our noble ideas terribly suspect.”
Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.