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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A conversation with Arlene Holt Baker

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 9:46 AM

This morning, a coalition of labor groups, civil-rights activists, and others are gathering outside the state Department of Motor Vehicles office at 708 Smithfield Street Downtown — the first stop in a statewide campaign to raise awareness of the state's Voter ID law. Among those in attendance is Arlene Holt Baker, the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. City Paper spoke with Holt Baker late last week about how Voter ID changes the election's dynamic — and what unions are doing about it.

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Why is the AFL-CIO getting involved in this? It's not strictly a "union issue."

We certainly believe a strong democracy has the ability for citizens to cast their votes, and we also believe that in order to have a strong democracy, you have to have a union that gives you a voice. The very same states that have introduced these laws have been states to introduce bills to weaken the voice of workers. It's an interesting thing — that voter suppression and taking the right of workers in the workplace, the immigrant-bashing, all seem to go hand-in-hand.

Although Tom Corbett hasn't gone out of his way to provoke fights with organized labor on things like prevailing-wage bills, the way some other Republican governors have. Why do you think that is?

I can't say why he hasn't done it. It's still a union town when you think about the state. But he certainly keeps company [with anti-labor Republicans], and supports the philosophy.

How has voter ID changed the way the AFL-CIO is organizing for this election?

It gives us another opportunity to show that these folks, who would try to suppress your vote, are not on your side as working people. Instead of them trying to figure out how to create jobs, it's, "How do we figure out a means to ensure that less people participate in the vote?" We can do the comparison, and show whose side these folks are on.

Ironically, though, if that works out as you hope, and if you have a ground game that works, it could be that there are comparatively few problems on Election Day — which will prompt Voter ID backers to say, "See? The law wasn't such a big deal after all." How would you respond to that?

I don't think there's any way that this will prove to be the right path to take. They've done it under the guise that there is voter fraud, and voter impersonation. But that does not exist. Even under the Bush administration, they only found 87 cases out of millions and millions of votes cast. People are not going in, impersonating others casting a vote. We know that its intent was to diminish the number of people of color, young people, and the poor. Because that is the coalition that elected Barack Obama.

What do you think Election Day will be like this year?

What I certainly hope it looks like, is that no matter what the outcome in the courts [on a legal challenge to the Voter ID law], you're going to see tremendous turnout. I think people are fired up. I think turnout numbers are going to be good. Because I think people are not going to sit back and be denied.

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