Monday, May 11, 2009

Showdown looming on voter ID bill

The bill requiring personal identification at Texas polls in order to be able to cast a ballot was passed out of its legislative committee today with the Republican chairman predicting its defeat.

Capitol Annex reports that a Democrat -- Joe Heflin -- helped vote the bill onto the floor. But Todd Smith still doesn't think it will pass:

"I just don't think the votes are there."

"It's pretty clear you can pass a bill like the Senate passed out when you have a 19-12 majority. It's not clear that you can pass that or anything else on this subject with a 76-74 majority in which we have some very independently minded people who make up those marginal votes," said Smith.

So far, Smith's efforts to find a bipartisan compromise have failed.

"You have to have significant numbers of people on both sides of the aisle accept the notion that it's going to be something other than a partisan cram-down," Smith said.

Many Republicans have said they will support the bill only if it contains tough photo identification requirements, while Democrats have said they want additional voter identification documents as well as expanded voter registration efforts. The Democrats control the field because several moderate Republicans are likely to vote against the bill, giving the Democrats a majority to kill it.

"Unless we develop a more pragmatic approach member by member and a stronger desire to reach some bipartisan compromise, then my guess is it's somewhat less than 50 percent to pass a bill," Smith said. "It's clear some members are interested in making a statement. They're not interested in passing a bill."

Lots of others have covered this in the run-up to next week's showdown. See also Rep. Aaron Pena's blog, Elise Hu at Political Junkie, DMN's Trail Blazers, and Gardner Selby's Postcards from the Lege. Update: And Burnt Orange.

Update II: The TDP press release lines up both Smith and Speaker Joe Straus in its sights:

... Smith had stated that the Voter ID bill should expand access and not take effect immediately, while the Senate bill does nothing to expand access and would take effect immediately.

A look at Chairman Smith’s statements:

· "It is my intent to have a part of the legislation that is intended to assure that the net effect of the legislation is to expand access and not restrict it." [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 4/22/09].

· "It's not something that's going to take effect immediately." [San Angelo Standard-Times, 3/29/09].

“Todd Smith may talk a good game, but when pressured by the right-wing of his party, he allowed a bill to move forward even though it failed the standards he set in committee hearings and public statements,” observed Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Ruben Hernandez. “Smith has punted his principles and soon Texans will see if Speaker Straus will fumble his opportunity to prove that he is a leader who will not allow the priorities of the Texas House to be dictated by a narrow partisan agenda.”

Update III: And Kuffner ...

The alleged "problem" that this bill is supposed to address is rarer than getting hit by lightning while being eaten by a shark, yet it's been deemed the single most important issue facing Texas today by those who fear for their electoral future if those damn voters can't be stopped. One certainly could have put forth a bill that would have genuinely addressed legitimate issues, ranging from verifiable audit trails to obstacles to getting registered to actual fraud involving absentee ballots, but Smith's Republican colleagues have never been interested in passing such a bill, as they have made perfectly clear. Given all this, the most sensible thing to do would have been to conclude that there are many more pressing issues that require the Lege's attention, but that wasn't gonna happen, either. So from the GOP's perspective, they either get a half a loaf, ot they get what they think will be a juicy campaign issue, or possibly both. You have to give them credit for keeping on with the wedge issues in the age of Obama, for however much longer that will work. I suppose if your piano only has one key, you play that note for all it's worth and hope nobody notices how monotonic you are.

Update IV
: From Harvey Kronberg, on Heflin's aye ...

In the wake of today’s committee vote on Voter ID, some members of the Democratic caucus are expressing dismay with Joe Heflin’s vote to kick out the bill. One Democratic lawmaker, who asked that he not be named, said the caucus was unhappy with the Crosbyton Democrat for giving Republicans the opportunity to say that Voter ID had bipartisan support in committee.

Democrats acknowledge that Heflin could not have stopped the bill, because Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) presumably would have voted aye if he became the deciding vote. As it was, Heflin’s aye vote gave Bonnen the cover to vote against a bill that he considered not strong enough.

For his part, Heflin disagreed with his colleague’s assessment, saying that he made plain his disappointment with the bill when he voted today. He said that people in his district want a Voter ID bill so he was voting his district by supporting the Senate version of the Voter ID bill today.

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