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Davis Grills Tanner on Minorities "Die First" Comment
Paul Kiel –
If there's been a more brutal examination of a witness in a Congressional hearing since the days of Alberto Gonzales, I haven't seen it.
Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) laid into voting section chief John Tanner during the hearing today over his comment earlier this month that "our society is such that minorities don't become elderly the way white people do. They die first." Tanner made the remarks as justification for his conviction that voter ID laws actually discriminate against whites. In Tanner's calculus, since minorities don't age "the way white people do," the effect of voter ID laws on the elderly means that whites are disproportionately affected. And since younger African-Americans frequently carry IDs because of racial profiling and the need to cash checks at "a check cashing business," voter ID laws actually favor African-Americans.
Tanner kicked off the hearing by repeating his apology for the comment, regretting that his "explanation of the data came across in a hurtful way."
But Davis wasn't mollified. I'm "not sure what youâre apologizing for," he said. Did he still think the statement was correct? "It is a sad fact..." Tanner began. Is that accurate? Davis pressed. Tanner began to say that he believed census data in Georgia (the subject of the most controversial voter ID law) showed that life expectancy among minorities was lower.
"But that's not what you said," Davis said. Tanner admitted that his was a "very clumsy statement." Davis pressed on: is it "accurate that minorities don't become elderly because white people do?" When you say "'they die first,' who is 'they?'" he asked.
When it was clear Tanner had no answer, Davis moved on to question him about the rate of voting among elderly minority voters in Davis' home state of Alabama. After objecting that he didn't have that data in front of him, Tanner finally admitted that yes, elderly minority voters have a very good turnout, even higher than elderly whites. Davis concluded that Tanner should "look at the statistics, rather than your stereotypes."
Davis, unfatigued, pressed on. And what was the source of Tanner's conviction that African-Americans tend to carry ID because they need to cash checks at check cashing businesses? Tanner made a vague reference to statistics showing that African-Americans tended not to belong to banks as much as whites, but then admitted that he didn't have such data with him.
"You're a policy maker, sir," Davis said. "You're in charge of enforcing the voting rights laws in this country.... If you are basing your conclusions on stereotypes rather than facts, then it suggests to some of us that someone else can do this job better than you can."
After Tanner countered that he hadn't made any decisions based on assumptions, Davis renewed his attack. Had Tanner actually looked at statistics concerning the "percentage of elderly minority voters in Georgia" before saying publicly that minorities don't grow elderly in that state? When Tanner repeatedly did not give a straight answer, but Davis pushed. Finally, he admitted: "no."