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Tony Exum wants you to vote



On the day of the 2018 primary election, state Rep. Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs, shared a story with me that illuminates the importance of voting.

One afternoon, shortly after his 2014 defeat to Republican Kit Roupe in the House District 17 race, Exum says he was working out at the Southeast YMCA and trying to ward off feelings of discouragement from the loss.

That’s when one of his constituents, also a black man, approached him and offered a gift: his original voting receipt issued by the state of Texas in 1964.

At that time, a black person had to pay a $5 tax (around $40 in today’s money) and pass a biased test (which most folks failed) in order to vote.

Exum carries that poll tax receipt in his pocket as a reminder of just how precious the right to vote is. And he finds that it can serve as a powerful reminder to others in his district, which, he notes, “has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the entire state.” In fact, Exum’s district, which covers Southeast Colorado Springs, has a reputation for going to a Democrat in high-voter-turnout presidential election years, and a Republican in lower-turnout midterm elections. Exum first won the seat in 2012, lost it in 2014, and won it again in 2016. As of May 2018 the district had over 10,000 inactive voters, meaning mail sent by the government to their address has bounced back — usually an indication that they need to update their voter registration.

In a time when the Trump administration and the Republican Party have become an active threat to civil rights — a threat that’s not limited to black Americans, but seemingly any group that threatens white supremacy — we can’t let up.

Pat Buchanan, right-wing mover and shaker, politician and political commentator, recently said on his blog, “Trump may be on the wrong side politically and emotionally of this issue of separating migrant kids from their parents. But on the mega-issue — the Third World invasion of the West — he is riding the great wave of the future, if the West is to have a future.”

News flash: Other “worlds” have always been a part of United States culture, it’s just that population trends are rapidly flipping the future prospect of white-dominated oppressive policies on their head.

Exum says we have to remember the cost for people who marched, bled and died to give us the freedom to vote. That wasn’t long ago. Voting, is a BIG deal.

“I get so frustrated at low voter turnout” he says. But he adds that he is adamant about encouraging his constituents instead of browbeating them.
When he runs into people who don’t vote or think that their vote doesn’t count, he turns his frustration into a challenge by pulling out that poll receipt and asking them, “Wouldn’t you honor, maybe, some of your relatives, by voting and making your voice count?”

Exum continues, “When I won the election in 2012 by [about] 3,500 votes, and then lost in 2014 by 289, and then won again two years later by [more than] 1,785 votes…[it shows] your vote has the potential to affect 80,000 people in your district. Your vote counts.”

Exum says that he doesn’t take anyone’s vote for granted, he will continue to ask those who have voted for him in the past to vote for him again. He also believes that voter education is necessary at every juncture of the election cycle, particularly for those who are under the impression they can’t vote due to felony convictions — and he is willing to put in the work.

Exum says this past session has been great for education, transportation and jobs, which, in addition to health care and the prison pipeline, are his constituents’ biggest concerns. “We passed an education budget that does more for our K-12 kids than any budget in at least a decade ... to provide our kids with newer books, cleaner classrooms and better-paid teachers.”

Moving forward, Exum, who has lived in the Springs since he was 5, says there is more at stake for his district. His constituents are hard-working folks and he’s dedicated to making sure they have a voice and the extra help they need. For instance, he wants to encourage developers to build more affordable housing. He says families should not have to choose between rent, heat and food.

He plans to sponsor a bill that would boost home heating and insulation assistance programs. A former firefighter, he also supported a bill that extends medical benefits for a year to the families of state employees killed in the line of duty.

Of course, if the natural see-saw of District 17 holds true, Exum could lose his seat in November. Roupe is running again this year, and it’s a midterm election.

Exum says that no matter how frustrated he gets with the lack of voter participation in HD17, he remembers why he is running. It’s not about a title but service to his constituents. “When I have a young kid that comes up to me and says ‘Thank you, Mr. Exum for your service,’ it keeps me going.”

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