PORTLAND — Fifty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, on Monday had strong words about voting.
“The reason not to vote is if you think everything is perfect,” said Frank, the keynote speaker at the 34th annual breakfast celebrating the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “The Koch brothers love people who don’t vote.”
Frank, who represented a district in Newton, Massachusetts, for 32 years, did not reserve his criticism for conservative efforts to create tighter voter identification laws, noting there is also sentiment against voting because of a perceived futility in casting a ballot.
“People are always invoking Martin Luther King. I am confident he would have been outraged by this effort by some leftists to discourage voting,” said Frank, who was also a student volunteer in voter registration drives in the South in 1964. Frank was also the first member of the U.S. House of Representatives to announce he is gay.
“If people don’t vote,” Frank said, “they do not have a claim on my attention.”
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, also spoke at the breakfast at the Holiday Inn by the Bay on Spring Street, hosted by the Portland chapter of the NAACP.
“There are generations in this room and we have power in that,” chapter President Rachel Talbot Ross said.
Those generations and the votes they generate are considered essential to preserving voting rights, which Frank said were diminished by a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to change election laws.
“We can’t undo that Supreme Court decision until we win more elections,” he said.
He also said King’s legacy must be preserved in terms of economic equality, noting King was killed in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, while working in support of striking sanitation workers.
“Unions have been an indispensable part of the effort of helping middle- and lower-middle-class people earn a living,” Frank said.
He also called King an heir to Mohandas Ghandi, who practiced nonviolent civil disobedience while seeking Indian independence.
“Acting out because it makes you feel better is an indulgence people cannot afford,” Frank said.
Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank addresses the annual NAACP breakfast honoring the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 19, in Portland.