Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the National Urban League conference in Cincinnati.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/Cara Owsley
CINCINNATI — Vice President Joe Biden told a conference of the National Urban League on Thursday that gains made since passage of the civil and voting rights acts half a century ago are endangered by what he characterized as threats on the minority vote.
“We see renewed attacks on voting rights across the nation,” he said. “This year alone there were 83 initiatives in 29 states to limit access to the ballot box in the name of preventing ... widespread fraud where none was occurring. ...
“But the fiction of widespread voter fraud continues to persist. Where I live, no American worth their salt could ever defend these new laws.”
He talked about the backlash against laws passed in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin but did not specifically mention Ohio, where U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently said he expects to get involved with a lawsuit filed by the NAACP and League of Women Voters against Republican-passed legislation reducing early and absentee voting opportunities.
On the heels of speaking to the NAACP convention in Las Vegas, the Democratic Vice President made the case in Ohio that at the same time such laws threaten the minority votes, a brightening economic picture offers new job opportunities for the same groups.
“It’s not hyberbole,” Mr. Biden said. “We are now in-sourcing [jobs] because, again, relative to the rest of the world, we’re better positioned than any other nation.”
But for more Americans to take advantage of those jobs, the United States must invest in work-force training, education, and its infrastructure.
“There are 100,000 manufacturing jobs right now going unfilled because of the lack of the right skills,” Mr. Biden said. “... These range from welding jobs that pay $36,000 a year to machinists that pay $40,000 a year — not requiring a doctorate degree, not even requiring a community college degree.
“In energy, the epicenter of energy in the world ... is North America. It is already here. ... The United States, Canada, and Mexico, not the Arabian Peninsula. ... We’ll be energy independent in the next several years, and North America will be in the next few years. There’s a boom.”
Republican Gov. John Kasich was invited to participate but instead made appearances at the Ohio State Fair and a career college graduation in Columbus. His Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, spoke.
Republicans have been represented, however. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus spoke on Thursday, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) — a potential 2016 presidential contender — is expected to speak today during the three-day conference.
Mr. Priebus said the GOP is reaching out to minorities, saying some black Democrats believe they have been taken for granted by their party.
“If there’s one thing I’m trying to change, it’s to make us a national party in every community with full-time, paid, on-the-ground staff making our case,” Mr. Priebus said. “... We have to be present year-round. We can’t just show up a few months before an election, and we can’t just be a U-Haul trailer of cash for our nominee.”
He spoke of the party’s support for job training, apprenticeships, and school vouchers as a means to allow students to escape struggling public schools. The last issue is particularly popular in the African-American community.
“America’s underemployment, especially black America’s underemployment, is a crisis,” Mr. Priebus said. “But the commentators on TV tell us that the economy’s getting better.
“That’s because they don’t see the whole picture. They don’t see the people who are exhausted from looking for jobs that don’t exist. They forget that the black unemployment rate isn’t that national rate of 6.1 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s 10.7 percent, and that’s a problem we must address.”
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