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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Two of our great lions gone home — Lettie Oliver and Rudy Hightower

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When God unexpectedly calls one of his children home, the pain is raw and numbing. That’s how many of us are feeling with the sudden death of Lettie Oliver.

For over three decades, Oliver, a proud member and leader of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), didn’t fit the labor leader stereotype. Lettie was a strong Black woman in a white man’s world who represented working people with a drive and determination that impressed labor’s friends and terrorized labor’s enemies.

Oliver could stand toe-to-toe with politicians as diverse as Mitch Daniels, Evan Bayh, Bart Peterson and Greg Ballard, telling them in blunt, frank terms what she thought and what she expected from them.

She was such a force and presence lobbying on behalf of working Hoosiers that a lobbyist bench outside the legislature’s chambers is named after her.

The state and local Democratic Party felt Oliver’s influence and power. There isn’t a Democrat elected to office here that didn’t get there without advice or help from her.

An elected precinct committeeperson and Warren Township Board member, Lettie didn’t just sit on the political sidelines. She also was a Christamore House board member and active in many other community organizations.

In a party already reeling from Sen. Bayh’s unexpected abdication, Oliver’s sudden departure from the battlefield is another crushing blow.

She was one of our quiet Black leaders. Not in her demeanor or approach, but because she worked behind the scenes. Not just fighting on behalf of working folks, but fighting to make sure that organized labor and the Democratic Party respected, included and involved all elements of our African-American community.

Oliver will be deeply, supremely missed by the working folks, Black folks and poor folks on whose behalf she fought and gave her life.

My deepest and most sincere sympathies to her children, grandchildren and labor brothers and sisters. Oliver was one of our community’s great lions and she will be supremely missed by everyone fighting for justice for all people.

Our community lost another lion with the passing of Rudy Hightower, who died March 3 after a long illness.

Hightower came to Indy in 1980 when he was the outreach liaison for the Census Bureau.

Hightower fell in love with Indy and, after the census, returned here. The 20-year Air Force vet impressed then Mayor Bill Hudnut, who tapped Hightower to run the Indianapolis Public Housing Agency.

Public housing here was a joke when Hightower took over, but he surrounded himself with qualified, quality people, adopted a resident-first philosophy and turned public housing around; earning local and national plaudits.

To his discredit, then Mayor Steve Goldsmith didn’t keep Hightower on. But Hightower stayed here, continuing his effort to improve the lives of our community. He created Second Chances, an organization that worked with contractors and businesses to provide employment opportunities for ex-offenders long before the current focus.

He was a dedicated, righteous brother truly committed to helping his fellow man.

On a personal level, Hightower helped me understand how censuses operate. That understanding is helping today in our community’s 2010 census effort.

My deepest sympathies to his children and grandchildren on their loss. Thank you for sharing this lion of our community with all of us.

What I’m Hearing

in the Streets

Indiana’s Supreme Court skirted a major issue during their substantive questioning during the Voter ID case arguments last week. During the oral arguments, Justice Frank Sullivan hypothetically asked about the impact of the legislature jacking up the price of state-issued ID cards. How would that impact the problem of people obtaining the IDs needed to vote?

That’s the central crux of the Voter ID case. It was far easier to get a state-issued photo ID before the venal law was enacted in 2005 than today. The increasing difficulty of obtaining state-issued IDs now causes more people to be denied their constitutional voting rights.

Our Supreme Court can now correct the basic flaw in both sides’ cases – the lack of sworn testimony of those actually being denied their voting rights, and the testimony of the alleged voter fraud Voter ID supporters claim to exist.

The smart move by the court would be to order the trial this case never had. Let’s put under oath those denied their voting rights and the evidence of massive in-person voting fraud that Secretary of State Todd Rokita claims. Let’s get the evidence in the record and decide the case on its merits; not Republican denial of voting rights politics.

Oh, someone needs to challenge Rokita and his minions on this point.

Rokita claims voters must only show state-issued IDs to curb alleged voter fraud. Yet, non-citizens can obtain state-issued IDs. Neither driver’s licenses nor state IDs identify citizenship, but only citizens can vote.

Rokita and Republicans have never addressed that anomaly. The state’s high court can finally force them to do so.

Bayh’s flacks took extreme umbrage at my Feb. 19 and Feb. 26 columns concerning Bayh’s not running for re-election. Bayh’s Washington-based minions fail to understand the deep anger Bayh’s decision elicited among African-American Hoosiers.

Bayh’s brood defended the senator’s record and decision, but since our conversation was “off-the-record” I can’t tell you what they said or explain Bayh’s position.

Meanwhile, Bayh continues granting interviews to everyone but Indiana Black media about his decision.

Have Marion County Republicans shown how they feel about the city/county’s largest minority group? Despite four outstanding African-American candidates, local Republicans fell all over themselves to pick a Hispanic, Angel Rivera, to replace African-American Kent Smith on the City-County Council.

Republicans were so giddy that they called Rivera Indianapolis’ first Hispanic Councilman. Their falsehood insulted Karen Celestino Horseman, the Council’s first Hispanic (2000-2003) and current Councilman Jose Evans, who’s African-American and Hispanic.

Local Republican leaders gushing over Rivera’s election forgot Indy’s basic demographics. African Americans comprise 27 percent of Indianapolis’ population; and 24.7 percent of the voting age population. Hispanics comprise 7.4 percent of Indianapolis’ population; and 5.9 percent of the voting age population. And because a large number of Hispanics aren’t yet citizens, the actual percentage of the voting-age population is far smaller.

Oh, don’t forget to fill out your 2010 Census form when it arrives this coming week! See ‘ya next week!

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