Friday May 27th, 2016 2:45AM

Democratic convention candidates sound off on 'voter suppression' efforts

By Ken Stanford Reporter
GAINESVILLE - Two of the five northeast Georgians who will be in Charlotte next week for the Democratic National Convention criticized Voter ID laws that Georgia and other states have adopted, calling them hindrances to minority voting and something that will play a role in President Obama's re-election bid.

Vendra Harper-Young of Cumming and Dustin Baker, a Gainesville native now living in Athens, commented in separate interviews this week as they prepare to join thousands of other delegates from around the country in Charlotte, N.C., for the three-day event which begins Tuesday.

Retiree Harper-Young said "overcoming voter suppression efforts and voter apathy" when asked the keys to the re-election of the President.

"With ever increasing number of states requiring birth certificates or passports to obtain photo identification to be used for voter registrations, it is becoming an almost impossibility for minorities to register to vote," she asserted. "Many minorities born in other states or countries cannot obtain these documents, so therefore they will not be eligible to vote. This action is based on the premise of deterring voter fraud, which most experts understand that most fraud occurs through absentee voting, not at the polls."

Baker, who is 25 and grew up in Gainesville but now lives in Athens where he works as an Academic Advisor at the University of Georgia, said "We will need to fight against Voter ID laws that have been shown to suppress minority turnout. In a close race, that could make all the difference."

But, he said there are other keys to an Obama win in November.

"I believe whoever the voters trust the most will become the President of the United States. He needs to connect with the working class people, which I believe he[Obama] is doing. The president needs to do well in the swing states to win the election - it is that simple."

Harper-Young and Baker will be joined in Charlotte by three other delegates from northeast Georgia: Joan Huddleston of Blue Ridge, Jana Hill of Clayton, and Janice Mathis of Bogart.

It will be the first trip for both Harper-Young and Baker to a national political convention as a delegate or alternate but Harper-Young says she has been involved in Democratic politics for 40 years and sought a seat at this year's convention "to be a voice for the Forsyth County Democratic Party."

Baker said he became politically active after 9/11 and soon realized "my views on life and the world aligned with the Democratic party. I helped with the Kerry campaign in 2004, even though I was not old enough to vote. In 2008, I did some work for Obama and also worked on a Senate campaign." Baker is also a member of the Clarke County Democratic Committee and the state Democratic Committee.

Both downplayed statements by many of the President's critics who say he cannot run on his record because of a continuing sluggish economy.

"If people look beyond the number of accomplishments and instead to what he had to overcome such as (the) Wall Street implosion, auto and banking industry collapse on the heels of housing construction, and right wing opposition to everything the President proposed, he indeed should be re-elected on his record," Harper-Young said.

Baker declared that he believes Obama "has a strong record he can run proudly on," but, "the sad reality is that so much of our policy process has to be summed up in 30-second sound bites for the public. You can't solve America's problem 30-seconds at a time. I think if anyone sits down and looks at Obama's record objectively and in detail, they would have a much better opinion of his record."

Both said the President was right to forge ahead with healthcare overhaul despite strong public opposition to it.

"When the Affordable Health Care Act was passed, Republicans started using the phrase "Obamacare" and tried to make it a negative," Baker noted. "I called it Obamacare proudly. Can you imagine if Medicare, which passed under President Johnson (a Democrat), was titled JohnsonCare? In ten years, when everyone is reaping the benefits of the program, I hope everyone remembers which president and which party passed the bill."

Harper-Young said the deaths of Osama bin Laden and other high-profile terrorists on Obama's watch probably won't carry much weight with voters between now and November "because people too easily forget the good things that happened and the media puts all attention on current events."

Asked what they would like to see the President do differently in a second term, Harper-Young said "Move toward more aggressive infrastructure improvements assistance to all states which will promote job growth."

"I would like to see tougher financial reform and regulation," Baker said. "I would like to see us really tackle the budget and the deficit - which I think all sides can do a better job on. I would like to see even more technology infrastructure built across the nation." And, he declared that "so much of Obama's agenda has been watered down, mostly through negotiations with Republicans in Congress."

Both said they are looking forward to the convention.

"Next week is going to be an exciting experience for me," Baker said, "but when I get back, I'm going to work. Georgia will be a blue state soon, and I want to be a part of making that happen."

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