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Congressman Lloyd Doggett

Representing the 35th District of Texas

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Austin American-Statesman Op-ed: Doggett: Why the Democratic debate must address democracy reform

September 11, 2019

In the spring, we commemorated the 54th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Alabama. Brutal beatings awaited those, like my friend and colleague John Lewis, who peacefully marched for civil and voting rights. Their hard-won victories remain threatened. Texas is ground zero for voter suppression, replacing brutal batons with more subtle Republican suppression: voter roll purges, repressive ID laws, altered polling locations, and crooked gerrymandering.

With Democratic presidential candidates convening Thursday in Houston for the third debate, we need a more prominent focus on preserving our democracy, resisting authoritarianism, and combating corruption. Some candidates have released democracy reform plans and held thoughtful conversations about these matters. But if we are truly serious about empowering every voter and making every vote count, there’s no substitute for a deeper, candid discussion on the national debate stage.

Democracy reform impacts every other debate topic—from climate change and gun violence prevention to lowering the cost of prescription drugs and assuring healthcare access. We need the best democracy, not the best democracy that money can buy.

Defending against foreigners seeking to infiltrate and manipulate our electoral process is not enough. We must also address domestic threats: improving ballot access, fixing our flawed campaign finance system, ending gerrymandering, combating corruption, and supporting other reforms to protect and restore the integrity of our democracy.

Our problem is not too many people voting illegally, but too few people voting at all. We have so much to gain from protecting participation, and everything to lose from further efforts to hollow out those rights.

Those who do not fear accountability work to make voting easier, not harder. Turning out the vote is only a threat to those who fear being turned out of office themselves. Finally in the majority, House Democrats approved the For the People Act, a bill which offers many reforms: protection from voter purges, automatic voter registration, longer early voting, independent, citizen House redistricting commissions, strengthened election integrity, and protection from the ongoing siege by dark money and predatory special interests. Mitch McConnell will not even permit the Senate to debate these issues.

Another provision, which I personally authored, requires presidential candidates to publicly disclose 10-years-worth of personal and business tax returns. Explaining that “people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook,” President Nixon permitted scrutiny of his tax returns. Those who fail even this modest Nixon standard have no right to our highest office.

We need thoughtful debate discussion regarding how each candidate plans specifically to protect and advance our democracy. No matter who “wins” Thursday’s debate—or even who wins the nomination—we’re all winners when we devote the time and energy to restoring faith in our democratic process.

With Trump condemning press freedom and obstructing our system of checks and balances, now, more than ever, we need a deeper dialogue on how to make our government more open, responsive and representative to all, not just those with the deepest pockets or the most powerful lobbyists.

Doggett, D-Austin, represents the 35th Congressional District.