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Commentary: Voters win as Nevada teachers union loses suit

  • Story Highlights
  • Judge rejects Nevada teachers union's lawsuit to prevent caucuses at casinos
  • Roland S. Martin: Lawsuit a political attempt to block likely Barack Obama supporters
  • Martin: Hillary Clinton sympathizers sued only after culinary union backed Obama
  • Such Democrats are hypocritical in trying to suppress Nevada voters, columnist says
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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(CNN) -- This year's presidential contest already has sparked massive voter interest in Iowa and New Hampshire, and for those of us who are embarrassed by America's low voter turnout the last few election cycles, it is something wonderful to watch.

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Roland S. Martin says that special interests trying to score political points shouldn't keep Americans from voting.

So thank goodness a federal judge in Nevada didn't do damage to this excitement by siding with the state's teachers union, which filed a shocking lawsuit eight days before Saturday's caucuses in a clear effort to dilute the voting strength of working-class people.

When Democratic officials in the Western state wanted to have their voice heard in the presidential primary season, they decided nearly a year ago to create nine at-large caucus sites so thousands of workers in the gambling hotels along the Las Vegas Strip could cast ballots.

Because they work 24 hours a day­ and Saturday is the busiest day of the week for the state's biggest economic engine, they would have no shot at going home to caucus and get back to work in time.

The Democratic National Committee approved the plan in May, and virtually nothing was said about the changes by anyone.

That is until the 60,000-strong Culinary Workers Union Local 226 endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president.

The largest and most organized union in the state, the Culinary Workers Union could play a large role in determining who wins the state. All the Democratic candidates fought hard for its endorsement as well as the vast resources the union pours into campaigns. Its decision was seen as a huge boost to Obama and a major blow to Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Then, three days later, the 28,000-member Nevada State Education Association chose to get its lawyers involved, filing the suit on behalf of six state residents. The rationale? The at-large caucuses would give the casino employees an unfair advantage since other workers couldn't caucus at their jobs.

The teachers union hasn't officially endorsed anyone, but several of its high-ranking officers are backing Clinton, and the suit was seen as an effort to squash her opponent's biggest political "get."

The senator from New York and former President Clinton steadfastly argued they had nothing to do with the suit, that it was all up by the teachers, but in their talking points, they were siding with the teachers' suit. Video Watch as ex-President Clinton lashes out at a reporter over the lawsuit »

In fact, after the ruling, the Clinton campaign said: "While we were not involved in this lawsuit and have always said that we would play by the rules that we're given, it has always been our hope that every Nevadan should have equal access and opportunity to participate in the caucus. Make no mistake -- the current system that inhibits some shift workers from being able to participate, while allowing others to do so, would seem to benefit other campaigns. More importantly it is unfair."

Here's the rub, and it boils down to one thing -- politics.

The teachers union and the Clinton campaign said nothing about these caucuses before the Obama endorsement. Clinton officials were holding out hope they would get it, and if so, those at-large caucuses would be like holding an ace up their sleeves on Election Day. Do you actually think their "fairness" argument would have been made with the endorsement? Yeah, right.

Let me be clear: This is not about Hillary Clinton, Obama or even John Edwards. It's about democracy, and wanting people to do what far too many Americans take for granted: vote.

I'm tired of these two-faced politicians and Democratic-leaning hacks run down Republicans with charges of voter suppression, and the Democrats and one of their biggest base of supporters ­-- a teachers union ­-- turn around and do the same.

Frankly, I don't care who the culinary union backed. If it had backed Clinton and the Obama or Edward camps encouraged this stunt, I would be all over them as well.

Remember, the Clintons joined a chorus of Democrats who yelled, kicked and screamed against Republicans about alleged massive voter fraud and voter suppression in 2000 and 2004. (That was a bit disingenuous considering Vice President Al Gore was trying to get military ballots thrown out to help his cause in Florida in 2000.)

These kinds of pathetic actions by so-called believers in democracy are why so many people are sick and tired of politics. We have witnessed both parties claim on one hand they want an open voting system that encourages,­ not discourages,­ people from voting.

Americans love to criticize elections in other nations that we don't think are done aboveboard. We tell Pakistan that there should be fair and free elections, and we denounce Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe for his strong-armed tactics to keep the opposition party away from the polls.

Is my comparison too harsh? No. They do it with guns. We do it with lawyers.

It's time that we, the people, let unions, political parties or anyone else know that we will fight like the dickens for the right to vote and won't be obstructed by some special interest looking to score a cheap political point.

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Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at http://www.rolandsmartin.com/.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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