By Charles D. Ellison
Which is one reason some of us cringe at that familiar concept called “states’ rights.” There’s a long history attached to that phrase, and lately, the worst interpretations of the concept have been on the rise the farther out West you go, the deeper South you travel and the more you stumble around in the Midwest.
We occasionally pout over federal members of Congress who pull out ignorant screeds laced with subtle racist coding. But check out your state legislature and it all makes sense: Many state assemblies—loaded with part-time elected sociopaths looking for a soapbox—are virtual breeding grounds for oddball racist claims made in public view.
This time of year, it reaches a gong-crashing crescendo when most of the 50 state legislatures (pdf) are in session. There’s a sudden nationwide flood of racially charged invectives from, mostly, state Republican lawmakers. Here’s Mississippi state Rep. Gene Alday (R-Coahoma) on his hometown, “where all the blacks are getting food stamps” and getting “treated for gunshots.”
And while Nevada’s Assembly was pimping yet another voter-ID law, state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-Clark) proclaimed that the bill couldn’t possibly be unfair to people of color because “we’re in 2015 and we have a black president, in case anyone didn’t notice.”
Then there was Washington state Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Yakima) doubling down on “poor, colored people [as] most likely to commit crimes”—and raising the word “Negro” from the dead while explaining it on local TV.
But state lawmakers’ words frequently match their legislative actions. If you’re not paying attention to your state capital (since, let’s keep it real, most of us don’t), not only are you unaware that nearly two-thirds of all state legislatures are dominated by mostly white, and sometimes openly bigoted, GOP legislators, but you’ve also missed a steady stream of racially shady bills introduced or passed in those same states. It’s one of the more commonplace trends in American politics, constantly fanned by racial animus as one party gears up for another presidential election full of racial and religious dog whistles that excite the conservative base.