Humbug Square - It's Alive!

Austell legislator shakes up dying Democratic Party

If the Georgia Democratic Party ever awakens from its persistent vegetative state, it may be because a 26-year-old black woman from a former white-flight suburb inserted the feeding tube.

In a classic "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" outburst, state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, put a human voice to the frustrations of a passionless party.

For 12 weeks, the Democrats have been steamrolled, humiliated and buggered by a rampaging Republican Party devoted to advancing the interests of big business and mean religion.

In complete control for the first time in 130 years, the Republicans have run riot like the boys in Lord of the Flies.

They're turning state government into a secret cabal with only top officials and businessmen in the know.

They've limited a citizen's right to seek justice when hurt by a doctor (while somehow forgetting to mention that their beloved Terry Schiavo was a victim of medical malpractice).

They've sought to make it harder for individuals to protect themselves and their neighborhoods from the predations of developers and Georgia Power.

But one bill above all others may have gone too far: the anti-voting legislation sponsored by the Church Lady, state Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta.

Burmeister has a Bible at her desk and it's not just window dressing. "I read that," she recently told a reporter.

Isn't that special?

The legislation, which as I write on deadline is still moving through the General Assembly, would reduce the acceptable forms of identification to vote from 17 to seven. It would make Georgia the most restrictive state for voter identification in America.

The key provision is demanding a photo ID, at the same time that Republicans are reducing the number of places in Georgia that people can get driver's licenses.

What a remarkable coincidence!

Clearly, the bill would cut down the number of black and Hispanic voters. But it also would impact elderly white people in rural areas or anyone else who doesn't drive.

"This is the single biggest mistake the Republicans have made," says Bobby Rowan, the sage of Enigma, a former Democratic legislator and public service commissioner. "They don't realize how many people in Enigma or Albany or DeKalb County don't have a picture ID."

Among those who may be disenfranchised are rural "widow women" who have never had the occasion to drive, Rowan says. "These people have the right to vote."

Enter Alisha Thomas Morgan. On March 11, she displayed a set of chains to demonstrate what the bill means to black people. State Rep. Randal Mangham, D-Decatur, dropped shackles on Burmeister's desk, but later apologized. I don't know why. I thought it was cool.The next day was "Family Day." Morgan took to the well of the House and spoke out against the bill again. When her time was up, Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, tapped his gavel and said, "The lady's time has expired."

Morgan refused to leave and started singing the protest song, "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around." She kept singing while Richardson slammed his gavel.

Everybody was outraged and shocked. Such a lack of decorum! People talked of censure. Longtime legislative observers said it was disrespectful, immature and ineffective.

A young black person hadn't caused such a stir at the Capitol since Julian Bond opposed the Vietnam War or Cynthia McKinney opposed the first war in Iraq.

Even Civil Rights veteran Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, was critical. He told the AJC he was embarrassed by Morgan's behavior.

Burmeister said the opposition to her bill has been blown out of proportion. She said elderly people can vote absentee or get a free photo ID from the state. But there are only 50 places that provide the free ID to serve Georgia's 159 counties. And absentee balloting is much more open to fraud than a personal visit to the polls.

The opposition came to a head last week. Democrats, students, Hispanics, old people, the League of Women Voters and other pro-human groups held a rally against the voter ID legislation on the Capitol steps. The rally had some life in it even though Democrats were involved.

Civil Rights warhorse Joseph Lowery made it clear that he believed Morgan, in the spirit of the movement that grew out of Atlanta, was on the side of the angels.

Without naming Brooks, Lowery said he wasn't at all embarrassed by Morgan.

"I am embarrassed that some of our legislators were embarrassed," Lowery said.

People went wild, cheering. I think they're like me. I think they're tired of Democrats being well-mannered wimps.

Lowery declared that Morgan was the wave of the future. I hope so. It would be nice for an occasional Democrat to get angry and break decorum instead of trembling under a desk.

Now that she's so outspoken on the voting issue, I'd love to see Morgan run for secretary of state next year. It would be fun to watch a live wire like her take on ethically challenged state Sen. Bill Stephens, R-Canton.

At the rally on the steps, Rep. "Able" Mabel Thomas, D-Atlanta, suggested that it was wrong for all the attention to be focused solely on Morgan and that the media overlooked the fact that members of both chambers had walked out to protest the voter ID bill. But Thomas said Morgan was an effective focal point for the uprising."If you ever want to start a movement, mess with a black woman," Thomas said.

Which reminded me of something else I heard at the General Assembly earlier that day.

The Rev. John Donaldson, pastor of Reidsville United Methodist Church, had opened the morning in the Senate by talking about the Bible verse in which Jesus says, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

I was shocked. I thought the Jesus who cared about "the least of these" had been pretty much shelved by the Republicans, who seem to have come boiling out of the Church of the Tightly Clenched Fist after a baptism in bile.

So many of today's loudmouthed Republican Christians seem to worship a different Jesus, a special, mean Georgia Jesus who hates the poor and the sick and the weak and the different. This enables the Republicans to take away their benefits and their rights without feeling any guilt.

This is the type of faith that cheerfully supports killing 100,000 Iraqis but demands big-government intervention and national hysteria in one tragic Florida case.

In any event, I heard someone else pick up the thought about "the least of these." And, yes, it was a black female Democrat.

Sen. Regina Thomas, D-Savannah, took to the well and pointed out, "a lot of things we have done in this body have really hurt a lot of people."

So she issued an admonition to her colleagues as they embarked on another day of giving succor to the moneychangers.

"Don't let something spiritual inside of you die," she warned.

Senior Editor Doug Monroe says Georgia Republicans are split between Christians trying to save their souls and businessmen trying to sell theirs. You can reach Doug at Doug.Monroe@creativeloafing.com.??