Esteemed guests and citizens joined the LBJ Museum and the Texas State Department of Political Science August 7 in commemorating the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The act expanded the right to vote federally and eradicated state procedures withholding voting rights from minorities. The 1965 legislation was among many monumental bills signed into law by former president and Texas State alumni, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Larry Temple, Austin attorney and guest speaker of the event, said the Voting Rights Act endured a “torturous path” to passage. Political advisors warned LBJ he would lose the South as well as the next presidential election if he chose to sign the Voting Rights Act into law, Temple said.
“’I’m going to pass this legislation and if you get in my way I’m going to run over you,’” Temple said quoting the words of the LBJ.
LBJ gladly paid the price to pass this legislation into law, Temple said.
“Some southern senators added a provision of women’s discrimination into the bill thinking it would block the legislation from passing,” Temple said. “It did not work.”
Although 50 years have elapsed since the act passed, Temple said there is room for progress.
“People do such a lousy job in voting—and I mean just a lousy job,” Temple said.
Temple said one of the largest problems is the population does not vote proportionately and as a result there is no wholesome representation of the issues.
“People’s lives are very full,” said Councilwoman Jane Hughson, Place 4. “By the time people work and do children’s activities and church, there isn’t much time left.”
Hughson emphasized the difference becoming an informed voter could make in an individual’s life.
“People will get excited all about the president and maybe governor but what people don’t realize will have more of an impact on their lives is what the city council and commissioner’s court is doing,” Hughson said.
In the wake of city council elections in early November, Hughson encouraged citizens to become informed voters.
“We should take the right to vote as a sacred duty,” said Ed Mihalkanin, LBJ Museum board president and associate professor in the Department of Political Science. “It’s the essence of citizenship.”
Mihalkanin said over 60 people attended this year’s combined event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and LBJ’s birthday. He attributes the successful turnout to a growing interest among citizens in LBJ’s accomplishments and the relevance of voting in today’s news.
“It was only two days ago when this federal court repealed (Governor Greg Abbott’s) voter I.D. law,” Mihalkanin said. “To Texans it’s all the most pertinent now.”
Mihalkanin said people should not take citizenship lightly. He challenged people to commit half the time spent on hobbies to being informed.
“Legislation wise, we’ve come a very long way,” Hughson said. “Changing people’s hearts and minds takes longer.”