Now That We've Got The Senate
--by William Rivers Pitt
"The problems of victory are more agreeable than the problems of defeat, but they are no less difficult."
- Sir Winston Churchill
James Jeffords of Vermont is now my new personal hero.
The GOP held him solely to blame for their inability to ram through a thoroughly inappropriate tax package that serves the rich and does little for anyone else. By my lights, that makes him a man of conscience. For his transgression, Senators on the Right whispered into their sleeves about stripping Jeffords of power, and plotted to cut the funding for projects that served his constituents.
Who says the Republicans don't have a finely tuned sense of vengeance? They tried to eat one of their own, and now they must choke on it.
Rather than submit to the calumny of spiteful Senators, James Jeffords today made the astounding leap out of the ranks of the Republican party. With one stroke, the Democratic Party becomes the majority in the powerful and influential Senate chamber. Trent Lott is on the outside looking in, and all the chairmanships in all the Senate committees must immediately change hands from Republicans to Democrats. Tom Daschle is suddenly the most important man in Washington, D.C.
Now comes the hard part.
The Democratic Party has the power now to issue subpoenas and conduct investigations, just like my pal Dan Burton. They can put together subcommittees to look into any issue they wish. They have, at last, the big stick to swing. They must use it.
The Democratic majority in the Senate must immediately initiate a full-scale investigation into the events which transpired in Florida before, during and after the Presidential election on November 7, 2000.
They must investigate DatabaseServices/ChoicePoint and their involvement in the Florida catastrophe. ChoicePoint was hired by Florida elections supervisor Clayton Roberts (a Republican) to 'purify' the voting rolls and remove all felons, who technically do not have the right to vote in Florida. This process arose from a 1998 clean elections law that was passed after the ridiculous race for Mayor in Miami, when the dead rose to vote in numbers not seen since the days of Daley in Chicago.
Thousands of people were removed from the Florida voting rolls by ChoicePoint as part of their contractual obligation to the state and purportedly in accordance with the new election law. The problem is that many of the people removed from the rolls were not felons, nor were they properly informed of their new status.
Some of the lists of voters to be purged provided by ChoicePoint had a 95% error factor. 54% of those purged improperly from the roles were African American. African Americans make up only 11% of the total voting population in Florida. African American voters went 9-1 for Al Gore in the 2000 election.
Are those enough numbers? How about another one:
The margin of difference in Florida was 537 votes. It is no stretch to believe that had ChoicePoint performed their task properly, the thousands of African American voters who were denied the right to vote would have provided more than enough votes to deliver Florida to Gore.
There are those who believe the ChoicePoint disaster is proof that the GOP intended all along to steal the White House from the Democratic party. As I marched in Washington this weekend to defend the American right to vote, I heard many cries of "Jail to the thief!" I have been watching the GOP for long enough to know that they are capable of literally anything to achieve their goals. But, for the sake of civility, let us operate for the moment under the assumption that it was all a terrible mistake.
Here is a hypothetical: you are driving down the road in your shiny SUV after a long day in the office. You reach down to tune the radio while talking with your girlfriend about dinner plans on your cell phone. You are driving too fast. You hit someone who is crossing the street with your car, and you kill them.
You didn't mean to kill them, but you will be charged with involuntary manslaughter. You will do time in prison.
Now, operating under the momentary assumption that ChoicePoint didn't actually mean to violate the Voting Rights Act of 1964, it is at least clear that they committed Involuntary Democracy Slaughter in Florida. They didn't mean to kill our democracy. They were just driving recklessly.
A crime committed by mistake is still a crime, and must be punished.
The new Democratic Senate must pursue any and all means to determine what exactly happened with this ChoicePoint debacle. They must use their subpoena power to get hold of ChoicePoint documents regarding the process by which they purged the voting rolls. They need subpoenas because ChoicePoint refuses to turn over any documents to the press, citing corporate secrets.
Yes, folks, a corporation is in control of voting in America, and believes itself to be above public scrutiny.
For those who believe the GOP acted with nefarious intent in Florida, the issue becomes even more pressing. If these people are correct, then a monstrous crime has been committed by the GOP leadership in general, and by Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris, Clayton Roberts and ChoicePoint in particular against the people of the United States. They must be held accountable.
The Senate must investigate what happened in Florida. This ChoicePoint imbroglio is but one aspect that must be reviewed. There are many others. The Senate Democrats must do so with all haste. The stability of our democracy depends upon it. These secrets have been kept long enough.
Oh, and speaking of Florida, the new Senate majority must make absolutely sure that Bush & Co. cannot ram onto the Federal bench any Scalia clones. We've had just about enough of this specious Supreme Court. If Bush has his way, it will become even worse.
William Rivers Pitt 5/23/01