GOP Rep. Burgess Owens says it’s ‘an insult’ to compare the new Georgia voting law to Jim Crow

Burgess Owens
Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Capitol Hill on April 20, 2021.

  • GOP Rep. Burgess Owens has criticized comparisons of the Georgia voting law to Jim Crow.
  • “This is the type of fear-mongering I expected in the 1960s, not today,” he said.
  • Democrats contend that the law was devised to target voter turnout among Black voters.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

GOP Rep. Burgess Owens of Utah on Tuesday blasted Democratic-led criticism of the new Georgia voting law, rejecting comparisons of the legislation to the Jim Crow South as “absolutely outrageous.”

Owens, a conservative Black freshman congressman who grew up in segregation-era Florida, testified during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing called “Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote.” He zeroed in on the Georgia law’s bolstered photo identification requirements for absentee balloting.

The congressman called out “the left” for their opposition to the measure and rejected the law being linked to racially-driven restrictions from the past.

“To call this Jim Crow 2021 is an insult,” he said. “What I find extremely offensive is the narrative from the left that Black people are not smart enough, not educated enough, not desirous enough of education to do what every other culture and race does in this country: get an ID.”

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chairman of the committee, stressed that although 1960s-era civil rights legislation legally barred racist practices such as literacy tests, the GOP-driven push to enact restrictive voting measures has spread throughout the country this year.

“These new pieces of legislation may not involve literacy tests, counting the number of jelly beans in a jar like the original Jim Crow, but make no mistake, they are a deliberate effort to suppress voters of color,” he said.

“The voters who did vote in the last election were not their voters,” Durbin said of the GOP-led voting restrictions in typically red states. “That is fundamentally un-American.”

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After years of Republican ascendancy in Georgia, President Joe Biden won the state’s 16 electoral votes last year, defeating former President Donald Trump.

In January 2021, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were both elected to the Senate, defeating GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively.

The losses stunned Republicans, with Trump leading a monthslong pressure campaign to overturn the statewide results. The former president repeatedly alleged voter fraud and chided GOP Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for not aiding his cause to win the state.

Biden has derided the Georgia law as “Jim Crow in the 21st century” and a “blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience.”

The law, also known as the Election Integrity Act of 2021 or SB 202, tightens election rules in the state by limiting drop boxes, shortening the time for runoff elections from nine weeks to four weeks, and banning water and food from being distributed by volunteers to voters waiting in line, among other measures.

Owens stressed that it was “disgusting and offensive” to compare segregation-era violence to states asking voters to produce valid photo identification.

“This is the type of fear-mongering I expected in the 1960s, not today,” he said.

The congressman also chided Biden for connecting the Georgia law to Jim Crow.

“With all due respect, Mr. President, you know better,” he said. “For someone who has actually experienced Jim Crow laws, I’d like to set the record straight on the myth of the recently passed Georgia state law and why any comparison between this law and Jim Crow is absolutely outrageous.”

In detailing the conditions of the Jim Crow South, Owens recounted how he demonstrated outside of a segregated theater as a preteen and recalled receiving used textbooks from all-white schools.

“Jim Crow that I grew up in in the South was initiated by the Democratic Party,” he said. “The soft bigotry of low expectations now projected on Black Americans … is being done by the Democratic Party.”

Sen. Warnock, who is up for reelection for a full term next year, had a different perspective, telling the committee that the GOP pushed back against the robust voter turnout in Georgia “not in celebration but with retaliation.”

“This is a full-fledged assault on voting rights unlike anything we have seen since the era of Jim Crow,” he said.

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