AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Friday marks the late President Lyndon B. Johnson’s birthday. Now at 74 years of age, his daughter feels a sense of urgency to renew the push for voting rights in Texas and the United States.
Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of the 36th President of the United States, said she’d “dare not” put words into her father’s mouth, but imagines he’d be disappointed to see the Republican-backed elections overhaul bill coming out of his home state’s legislature.
“But I believe with all that is in me that he gave his literal political life so that all of us could have access to the voting booth,” she said. “And it would break his heart to see that Texas was at the forefront of trying to take those rights away from people.”
Baines Johnson was 18 years old when her father signed the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. She recalls her father giving one of the first pens after signing it to a Republican, former U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen.
“Now it seems that we got camps. People on one side or people on the other. It’s not a ‘we/they’ situation, it’s an ‘us’ situation,” she said. “..my father often referred us to embrace the words of the book of Isaiah, ‘come and reason together,’ but it didn’t seem that the Texas Legislature really wanted to reason together.”
SB1, the sweeping elections bill that’s been a subject of controversy for months, led to weeks of a stalemate after Democrats fled the state to break quorum. Baines Johnson applauded their efforts, but said it was sad it got to that point.
Democrats have decried the legislation as “voter suppression,” saying it will disproportionately affect Texans of color. However, Republicans have defended the bill as “safeguards” to Texas’ election system, saying it will keep integrity and ensure security in voting.
Now, Baines Johnson says she is taking on a more active role in fighting for the ideals of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“It breaks my heart, but it also energizes me and makes me feel even though I’m 74 and wary sometimes, that I cannot be,” Baines Johnson said. “…Why would people who want liberty, justice for all do something like that? It’s just not the right thing to do.”
Texas joins a slew of other state legislatures that have introduced or enacted changes to their state’s election laws.
According to the Brennan Justice Center, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, at least 18 states enacted 30 new laws with restrictive voting measures between January 1 and July 14, 2021. The institute defines the policy as “restriction” if the legislation makes it “harder for Americans to register, stay on the rolls, and/or vote, as compared to existing state law.”
During Thursday’s House debate one of the bill’s authors, Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, said it isn’t abnormal for legislative bodies to revamp their laws around voting after an election year.
“Texas has consistently reviewed its election law policy over time, making changes and updates as needed. SB1 continues this process,” Murr said Thursday.
However, Democrats accused Republicans of perpetuating “the big lie” with SB1, referring to disputed and unfounded claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was “stolen.”
“There’s no reason for this bill,” Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, said during floor debate. “And no reason why we had to come back and no reason why you had to be here. This is all about furtherance of the big lie.”
While Baines Johnson agrees with Democrats on the issue, she said she is “deeply grieved” by the state of politics in America, “that’s pitting each other against each other.”
“The one thing that I’m hoping and praying for this [President Johnson’s] birthday is that his fellow Texans will come with compassion and understanding, and focus on how we can all get a right to vote and exercise that vote,” she said.