Rep. Bonner voted against 2006 renewal of Voting Rights Act

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 28, 2013

Editor’s note: I live in Georgia, but I’m from Alabama. I married a beautiful Alabama gal, and graduated from the University of Alabama in 2005. I have roots there and care about its future.

The University of Alabama System’s new lobbyist, Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, was one of only two Alabama congressman to vote against the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to The article is well worth a read.

When Rep. Bonner starts his job in August, he will be representing a diverse community, one that didn’t get the opportunity to vote for him to become the next UAS vice chancellor.

The 2006 renewal of VRA passed with overwhelming support in the U.S. House of Representatives, 390-33.

If you’re reading the news, you’ll know that this week the U.S. Supreme Court essentially gutted a key provision of the VRA, Section 4. That’s the provision establishing the formula used to determine whether states (mostly Southern) had to get U.S. Department of Justice approval before changing election procedures (i.e., new district maps) under Section 5 of the VRA.

If you’re reading Alabama news, you’ll know that Rep. Bonner will soon leave congress mere months after winning reelection. Why? He’s got a job as Vice Chancellor with the University of Alabama System. His sister, Judy Bonner, is president of the University of Alabama. I still have lots of questions surrounding that curious coincidence, but I know the one you’re probably asking yourself.

So what in the world does the 2006 VRA vote have to to with the University of Alabama System job?

I think it has some troubling implications about whether Rep. Bonner will adequately represent the interests of black students and faculty members. I think it’s safe to assume there are more than a few who might not agree with his vote against the renewal of VRA, particularly when it enjoyed such overwhelming support in the House, even from most of the congressmen in Bonner’s home state.

And Bonner didn’t just vote against the renewal of the portion of the VRA that the Supreme Court recently struck down. Bonner voted against renewing the entire bill. That includes Section 2, which expressly prohibits discrimination in elections.  According to PEW research data, 75 percent of blacks who responded to their poll feel the VRA is still necessary to protect minority voting rights.

Bonner feels Alabama has progressed enough that the VRA is no longer necessary, but a majority of  the African Americans at UAS that he will represent may feel otherwise.

I haven’t seen any specific polling about the black community in Alabama’s reaction to the SCOTUS ruling, but the Voting Rights Act came about because of events surrounding the Selma to Montgomery March, an event sparked because blacks were unable to register to vote.   The leaders in Selma were pretty pissed off about the SCOTUS ruling, I hear.

Rep. Bonner was born in Selma, which he believes makes him a better judge on whether renewing the VRA is a good idea, according to his statements about why he voted against renewal in 2006.

There were lots of battlegrounds during the Civil Rights struggle, including the University of Alabama. The federal government had to forcibly integrate the University of Alabama in 1963 after Gov. George Wallace pulled his little “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” stunt.

All three universities have diversity programs. (Fun fact: Judy Bonner played a major role in crafting the 2010-2011 diversity report for UA when she was provost.)

And what about black enrollment within UAS?

The University of Alabama: 12 percent black.

University of Alabama Birmingham: 26.5 percent black.

University of Alabama Huntsville: 14 percent black

There are three black members of the 17-member University of Alabama System Board of Trustees.

And let’s not forget about members of other races who don’t think Bonner made the right call in 2006.

Rep. Bonner has been selected to represent UAS not just to the nation, but to the world. What impact will his position on the Voting Rights Act have on his ability to do that job effectively?

The defenses Rep. Bonner used to justify voting against renewal of the act are also a bit odd.

His primary complaint stems from Section 5 of the act not applying to every state. He also says things have changed in Alabama.

Somehow or another, he managed to tie it into the debate about illegal immigration and English-only education:

“I truly lament the fact that, as our great Nation is in the midst of an important national debate, one that is focused on how we secure our borders and deal with the all-important matter of having between 11 and 20 million people who are in this country illegally, I can only wish that we had been courageous enough to say, ‘if you want to become a citizen of this country and enjoy the many benefits that come with that citizenship, then you need to learn English–which is our national language–and you need to become a full-fledged participant in what has made–and continues to make–us different from almost every other country in the world and that is our right to participate in free elections and self-governance.”’

OK. So there’s that.

Rep. Bonner’s view that VRA violations are no longer happening in Alabama isn’t universally shared by all Alabamians.

There has been lawsuit after lawsuit.

In 2004, the Justice Department intervened in Bayou La Batre Alabama after it found white voters had inappropriately interfered with the election of the city’s first Asian member of its City Council.

The report produced by notes that since 1982, “the Department of Justice has objected to 46 Section 5 submissions from Alabama,seven from the state, and 39 from local jurisdictions. A map showing where the local objections have been interposed is appended to the back of this report. Moreover, Department of Justice observers have been dispatched to monitor elections 91 times.

“Beyond this quantitative data, since 1982, federal courts have found that the system of appointing pollworkers and methods of election for local jurisdictions arose from an intentionally discriminatory state policy. The remedies to these policies affected virtually every county in  Alabama. Some jurisdictions proved to be defiant in adopting a method of election that would  provide minority voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice. Others attempted to  nullify the effect of the affirmative litigation, and in some cases were prevented from doing so by  Section 5.

“Additionally, in 1987, the Supreme Court found that the city of Pleasant Grove – a racial enclave with no black citizens – failed to demonstrate under Section 5 that its annexation policy was nondiscriminatory. The Congressional and legislative redistrictings in the past three decades have also demonstrated the significant impact that the Voting Rights Act has had in creating and maintaining opportunities for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.”

So while the discrimination that has gone on in Alabama certainly has gotten better since Selma, it is certainly still something that black residents and supporters of the VRA see as a bit of a problem.

Rep. Bonner will have to represent the interests of everyone at UAS. I think his past actions call into question his ability to do so effectively.

The UAS community, unlike Rep. Bonner’s constituents, did not get to vote whether or not to hire him. It’s a diverse community with diverse needs.

If UAS had been more transparent about this process, these concerns could’ve been addressed.

There are a lot of concerns about hiring Rep. Bonner that haven’t been addressed.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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