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Congressional Black Caucus Hour: Voting Rights Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. KAPTUR. I want to thank Dr. Christensen for holding this very, very important Special Order as we begin Black History Month here in the United States and say how proud I am to serve with her, her path-breaking work in health care, leading us to coverage for all, to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. I had not heard that story, what she personally has lived and helped push America forward to a new day. It is my distinct pleasure and honor to be here with them tonight.

I wanted to participate in this Special Order because of what we are going through in Texas and Ohio and Florida, and around this country with redistricting. It is true that Ohio, because the population hasn't grown, has to lose two seats. But we have seen a redistricting like none other. I wanted to put some of this on the record because I think scholars around the country and young people studying could really take a look at what has happened in this recent redistricting that I think has a subtle and very insidious agenda that isn't immediately apparent to the eye.

I had a woman come up to me yesterday in a church in Ohio. She happened to be an African American woman. She said: I want to ask you a question, Congresswoman. Why is my voting location changed all of the time? Why is my precinct flipped all the time?

I said: You know, ma'am, I know something is going on here that isn't good. Ohio was never technically a voting rights State, but there's something strange. And I thought I would put on the record some of what's strange about what's happening in Ohio.

Individuals like herself constantly have to go to a different precinct. She never moved her house. She lives in the same place. A lot of people maybe don't realize that their precinct has been changed, and some percent of people will not go to the other precinct. It may be a small percent. It may be 0.02 percent; but you add that up around a State that votes 50/50, and you begin to see a fall off in voting.

I can tell you this, and I wish to place this on the Nation's record tonight: for every Republican Congress Member from Ohio who sits here, and they have the majority, 13 out of 18, their home county was kept whole. Every single one. But for every Democrat--there are only five of us out of 18--their home county was crashed and broken up into parts.

Every urban county, if you look around at the five of us who are here: Cuyahoga has been split into four parts in a very strange way; Lucas County is missing its western half now; you go down to Akron, you look at that county, cities like Parma, Parma, Ohio, one of the largest cities in Ohio, sliced in half. What do those places all have in common? They all happen to be urban areas. They have mixed populations. They have diversity. They like people who aren't like themselves. They like the diversity of life. Those communities have been hacked apart in Ohio.

Our colleague, Congresswoman Betty Sutton, 42 percent of the precincts in her new district are broken. That means booth workers can make mistakes. More than one Member of Congress is running in that precinct. Sometimes as many as three are running in the same precinct. When that goes on the ballot, do you realize how much confusion, even if everybody has an IQ of a gazillion, somebody is going to go in the booth and put the wrong vote on the ballot because of the confusion with so many Members running in the same precinct.

Booth workers will make mistakes. And just like the woman I mentioned at the beginning whose precinct keeps changing although she hasn't moved, there is a certain percentage of error involved in that. And it's happening in the Democratic areas, not the Republican.

So I would say this: I would ask those who are listening tonight to think about really peeling apart the layers of this redistricting in places like Texas and Ohio and look at the subtle nature of the type of gerrymandering that's being done around the country. Communities are being hacked apart. Communities of interest are being hacked apart.

Doesn't Parma, Ohio, have the right to be its own city? It's hard enough to get things done across communities where needs are great. We have so many people losing their homes. There's all kinds of problems in this country with the unemployment, but we make it harder for communities to hold together. There seems to be something un-American about that. There seems to be something really ugly, something very insidious when it pulls people apart rather than holds them together.

We have one Congressman, actually a Republican from the other side of the aisle. Ohio has 88 counties. Do you know how many counties they put in his district, 20; 20 out of 88. That means 60 county commissioners. Can you imagine how many mayors? Unbelievable. This makes no sense. But it's what happened. And I am very concerned, as my colleagues are, about what happens to people who are elderly, who can't travel far, who sometimes have trouble seeing.

And as you start switching things around and you make it more difficult, even I notice the way they print the absentee ballots in Ohio--I'm glad to have them early--but you need a magnifying glass to see the letters when we know that the population in many of these urban areas are a high percentage of senior citizens.

There's something very un-American, something very unfriendly about what is going on here. It makes me think about the Voting Rights Act and maybe strengthening it and taking a particular look at urban areas that are being broken up in very, very strange ways. You can't even explain, the lines don't even make any sense where they are putting them in urban areas. It's like they are shattering communities of interest. There's something really wrong about that.

I wanted to say also to Congresswoman Christensen, in Ohio we've had a lot of great African Americans. I've had the opportunity to serve with some of them here, and I would like to place in the Record tonight the names of some of them in honor of Black History Month.

One of the individuals I would like to talk about is a great writer, Toni Morrison, a woman who was born in Lorain, Ohio, now part of the Ninth Congressional

District. We know how important Black History Month is because it's the time of the year to reflect and be thankful for the countless contributions of African Americans like Ms. Morrison who have made enduring contributions to American life and to world history.

This year's Black History Month theme is ``Black Women in American Culture and History.'' And I would say this Caucasian woman is very proud to join my colleagues of color and say that I'm glad it's all women down here tonight for the moment because, really, our voices need to be magnified, and certainly Ms. Morrison did that. In honoring women, we honor her. She is exactly the type of person we should be recognizing, given this Black History Month's theme, for her work in American literature.

She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and became the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature, making her the 90th Nobel Laureate in literature. She came from Lorain, Ohio. She didn't come from the places that are known as the cultural meccas. She came from a tough place where people work hard for a living. She was born during the Great Depression in that working-class city. Ms. Morrison showed an interest in literature at an early age. Through hard work, she received degrees from Howard University here and Cornell. She subsequently taught at Texas Southern University, Howard University, Yale, and Princeton. Her contributions to American history come from her six novels. During her Nobel Prize ceremony, the Permanent Secretary of the Academy said: ``In her depictions of the world of the black people, in life as in legend, Toni Morrison has given the Afro-American people their history back, piece by piece.''

Mr. Speaker let us take time to fully recognize the contributions of Toni Morrison and the many others during this year's Black History Month. While the United States is facing many challenges today, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the work of leaders such as Tony Morrison do not go unnoticed.

I just wanted to mention, also, she penned a story about a girl from her childhood who prayed for blue eyes. I happen to have blue eyes. I never thought about that. She said this was the basis for her first novel, ``The Bluest Eye,'' published in 1970. I have to say I admire the African American people because I always wanted curly hair, and I never really had it. So you see, we learn from one another and appreciate from one another.

In concluding tonight, let me say that I wish to place in the Record from the Cleveland Plain Dealer a wonderful story honoring the achievements of great African Americans who have come from our part of America. There are a few whose names I would like to read into the Record: Langston Hughes, playwright, poet and writer; our dear beloved colleague, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first black woman to be elected to Congress from Ohio. I miss her to this day. I have her picture in my office. Halle Berry, the first black woman to win an Academy Award as best actress. Think about that.

Carl B. Stokes was the first black mayor--first black mayor--of a major American city, and it was Cleveland, Ohio--Cleveland, Ohio. We are so proud of that. And I was proud to serve with his bother, Louis Stokes, who was here for so many years, who preceded me on the Appropriations Committee.

I could go on, Mr. Speaker. There are others who wish to speak tonight. But I have to say, I'm proud to be an Ohioan, one of the States that was always a free State, home of the Underground Railroad as it came through, and people disembarked and escaped for their lives to places like Canada through northern Ohio, through the communities that I am privileged to represent now.

I am very proud to stand with my colleague, Dr. Christensen, here tonight, in honoring all Americans, certainly in this Black History Month, and what they have taught us over our centuries about full representation and the decent and fair treatment of people. What a legacy they have given and continue to create for our country. I want to thank the gentlelady for yielding to me this evening.


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