By Bill Minor
JACKSON – Since when did Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann become the state’s chief legal officer? Last time I checked, Attorney General Jim Hood was, under the 1890 state constitution, judicially established as the state’s chief legal officer.
Totally ignoring that fact, the politically-ambitious Delbert is telling the media he’s the state’s champion to confront the monstrous U.S. Department of Justice and keep it from blocking the state from imposing a new law requiring Mississippians to show an approved I.D. in order to vote.
“He (Hosemann) wants to be driving the train on the Voter I.D. issue,” says NAACP attorney Carroll Rhodes, “while driving it off the tracks.”
Congress in 1965 adopted a federal law requiring states with a long record of enforcing legal barriers to keep black citizens from voting to get pre-clearance from DOJ or by the federal court of the District of Columbia before any voting law change. Mississippi headed the list of historically discriminating states.
Obviously when GOPers came into power they quickly forgot lessons from the state’s history of being the birthplace of the notorious post-Civil War “black code,” which for decades not only kept blacks from voting, but also from holding public office. Don’t they remember that a poll tax was a major voter requirement of Jim Crowism? Now, under the guise of the ballot initiative adopted last November they seek to install a voter I.D. scheme that has all of the markings of a poll tax, while concealing their fundamental agenda to disenfranchise minorities, elderly and poor who tend to vote Democratic.
Not to worry, say Hosemann and framers of HB 921 which seeks to implement the plan. If you don’t have a current, valid driver’s license and can show you can’t afford the $14 MHP charges for a photo copy, the state will give you one, that is, if you can show a birth certificate copy, costing $15. The Legislative Budget Office before the initiative went on the ballot did a cost estimate of $1.5 million for the MHP to provide free IDs. No money was put into the MHP appropriation by the recently ended 2012 Legislature to cover free ID’s.
Normally any bill on voting law changes passed by Mississippi’s Legislature contains a closing section that says the state attorney general shall submit the measure to the DOJ. This time, obviously with Hosemann’s hand print, HB 921 provides an alternative that the secretary of state or governor can submit the law change. Attorney General Jim Hood, probably to Hosemann’s chagrin, says he will “do my duty” and submit HB 921 and any supplemental papers to DOJ.
Actually, no one – Hosemann or other Voter I.D. backers – have given a figure on how many voters either don’t have driver licenses or other approved accepted identifications. In South Carolina, second to Mississippi in percentage of black population, DOJ has already temporarily blocked that state’s voter ID law.
In Mississippi, over strong opposition by Senate Democrats, Hosemann had Republican fiscal leaders insert $450,000 into his budget for litigation connected to seeking approval of the new law. One lawmaker observed: “that’d just be a down payment if Delbert hires expert attorneys in Washington.”
One of the approved IDs on the list in HB 921 is a permit to carry a pistol. Does that mean you can pull a .45-caliber revolver if a poll worker refuses you a ballot? Rich fodder for some rapper to write a tune: “Packin’ at the polls in Mississippi.”
Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at email@example.com.