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John Wellington Ennis

John Wellington Ennis

Posted January 29, 2009 | 07:58 PM (EST)

Ken Blackwell Redefines Racism


Right now, The Republican National Committee is convening in Washington in desperate search for new leadership. The one thing they can agree on, according to The Washington Post, is that they are looking for a way to get away from Ex-Decider George W. Bush.

As I have previously pronounced in endorsing his bid for RNC Chair, Ken Blackwell is an embarrassingly bad politician. But when it comes to crippling elections with tenacious scheming through the courts, the media, and arcane state election law, Blackwell can be something of a mastermind. Ken Blackwell's administration of elections in Ohio could be compared to Kafka, but even Franz Kafka helped bring about worker's compensation.

Right now, the Supreme Court is hearing a case that challenges renewing aspects of the Voting Rights Act. Redistricting in all 50 states is set to occur over the next several years, and certain areas in the South with entrenched histories of disenfranchising black voters need authority from the Justice Department, called "preclearance."

Ken Blackwell argues that since some African Americans have held office and judicial positions, America is a very different place than in 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was written. Since it is a different place than when the law was first written, it surely could no longer apply: "Does America still need draconian laws that were passed to combat endemic racism and overt hostility?" Actually -- yeah, we need more laws, and enforcement of existing laws. Getting Karl Rove's partisan prosecutor appointments out of the Justice Department would be a great place to start.

Maybe laws that require federal oversight in re-districting historically corrupt areas seem draconian to Blackwell -- he prefers laws that do the job of knocking voters off the rolls for him. Like House Bill 3 in Ohio, championed by Blackwell in 2005, part of which took the voter-purging tactic known as "caging" and made it a state practice. Thus, voters who have not voted in two previous federal elections have their voter registration revoked.

Or maybe Blackwell prefers laws that farm out our elections to Republican corporations, like when he gave a no-bid contract to Diebold? As secretary of state of Ohio, Blackwell famously once required that voter registration cards could only be processed if they were printed on 80 lb. paper, as an obscure decades-old directive had once requested. Some might call that act "draconian"; I call it "dickhead-ian." Clinically speaking, Ken Blackwell is obsessive-compulsive about preventing people from voting.

Blackwell doesn't oppose this law because it's old. He knows how populations vote, and how to hedge your bets by shaving off a reliable Democratic demographic. Blackwell sees the opportunity to take the voter suppression tactics he honed at the precinct level to the national level through dismantling the Voting Rights Act. And he is boasting his vision for this to the caretakers of the RNC, showing them that if the GOP can't win new voters, he can at least attack other voters.

Election subversion and voter suppression has only grown in recent years, becoming a veritable cottage industry. My film FREE FOR ALL! crams in as much of this available evidence as possible in 90 minutes. One of my documentary's subjects, author and professor Mark Crispin Miller, writes astutely about this case before SCOTUS, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Mukasey, No. 08-322:

While the lawsuit claims that things have universally improved since 1965, the evidence makes clear that, since 2000, things have gotten just as bad as they once were, or even worse-albeit voters black and brown and red (and student voters of all colors) are now deprived of their essential civil right not through crude violence, as in Selma once upon a time, but through methods infinitely subtler, and far more efficient.

Voter purges, ID laws, under-equipped polls in black neighborhoods, bogus voter fraud charges, and outright lying to the public are just some of these methods employed by Ken Blackwell and other Republicans across the country.

It seems so petty to consider that other candidates for RNC Chair were chided for racial insensitivity for putting a Rush Limbaugh song on a holiday mix CD, or belonging to a "Whites Only" country club. Blackwell proudly wants to tear down historical statutes protecting black voters. While I thought there might not be anything more offensive than "Barack the Magic Negro," this would be it.

Ken Blackwell insisted in an interview at the Republican National Convention that he totally has not had homosexual feelings, but if he had, he would have suppressed them because it's obviously wrong. I truly believe Ken Blackwell is not gay, because his campaign against gay marriage in Ohio in 2004 smacked much more of opportunism to win favor with evangelicals, rather than full-on gay bashing. The right-wingers who really demonize gays and lesbians are the closet cases. Besides, Ken Blackwell -- as an individual, and as a candidate -- is not nearly well put-together enough to have a hope of being gay, even metrosexual.

But I think Blackwell's instinct to resist what you are in order to earn the approval of conservatives kind of says it all. That Ken Blackwell, an African American, has worked so relentlessly to disenfranchise so many other African American voters says more on its own than I could ever try to. One could speculate endlessly about the sociological (or sociopathic) layers of character in such a man. Believe me, I have -- I already made a feature documentary about him, and I still have enough for a sequel.

There are many who have said that black people can never be racist, in the context of "racist" meaning institutionalized bias. Through Ken Blackwell, institutionalized racism at the voting booth might not only survive, it could spread. Now that there's a black president, it doesn't feel like racism is over, or that institutionalized divisions of class and race have gone "poof," but I'll check with some black people and get back to you. As Bill Maher said, having a black president does not itself signify equality -- having an unqualified black president will.