Despite reform efforts, GOP continues to faulter

Following President Barack Obama’s decisive victory over former Gov. Mitt Romney, there was a consensus among top Republicans that their party needed to undergo some sort of upheaval to improve their prospects for 2014 and beyond. Rather than finally disavowing radical and outdated social policies, however, the GOP continues to shoot itself in the foot by passing ludicrous voting laws.

In Virginia, a key battleground state won by Obama, state legislators took advantage of Sen. Henry Marsh’s absence last week to pass redistricting legislation. Marsh, a Democrat and prominent civil rights lawyer, was not present when the vote occurred because he was attending President Obama’s inauguration ceremony. The vote came out to 20 Republicans voting in favor against 19 opposing Democrats.

The new district lines have been criticized for isolating black voters into a single district. Critics of the new lines point out that by isolating black voters, Republicans are in effect creating one Democratic stronghold while making the other, predominantly white districts more likely to swing Republican. 

The very same week a bill to eliminate Virginia’s “winner-take-all” electoral system was pushed through committees in the senate. Under the new law, electoral votes would be granted by district in the state. Were the law to have been in effect this past election, Obama would have received four points from Virginia, while Romney would have taken nine. 

Because Obama won the popular vote in Virginia, however, he received all 13 of the state’s electoral votes. While the bill is highly controversial and unlikely to pass, GOP leadership in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have expressed interest in adopting similar measures.

That Republicans are still framing reform efforts around voting legislation shows a tremendous arrogance from their party. It indicates a refusal to acknowledge the irrelevance of much of their party platform. Rather than gerrymandering voter districts, Republicans should be disavowing the policies that caused an 18-point gender gap in Obama’s favor in November.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus recently said, “Let’s stop talking about ‘reaching out’ – and start working on welcoming in.” 

What Priebus does not realize is that there are a lot of people who do not want to be welcomed in by a party that has worked tooth and nail to erode their rights. I cannot think of anything short of reaching out that would make women, immigrants or LGBTQ persons want to be “welcomed in” by the current GOP.

The question becomes how to reach out to these groups. Fortunately, it is not very difficult. It does not even require too drastic a shift in policy. First, it is time to drop same-sex marriage opposition from the party platform lest the GOP wants to find itself on the wrong side of history. Some Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich have already expressed acceptance of same-sex marriage following President Obama’s victory. 

Also, next time an elected official talks about the varying degrees of legitimacy of rape or it being ordained by God, do not defend that person. Rebuke them. Rebuke them hard.

More importantly, abandon the notion that voter suppression tactics actually work. While Florida Gov. Rick Scott was attempting to purge voter rolls and state legislatures were pushing photo ID requirements, Democratic organizations across the country were mobilizing voters. Absurdly long lines, a result of redistricting and shifting polling places, did not discourage voters in Florida or Virginia because they knew what was at stake.

The Republican Party is at a critical point. Real reform is possible, but at this rate they will not achieve it any time soon.

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