Flood of state birther bills greets the start of this year’s legislative sessions

Posted on: February 15th, 2011 by Kyle Daly 4 Comments

As state legislatures across the country begin their 2011 sessions, there is one lingering issue that simply won’t die. Conservative legislators in several states have already proposed more “birther bills” that allude to the conspiracy theory alleging that President Obama is foreign-born. This marks the fourth straight year in which birther bills have featured in state legislative sessions; Oklahoma Representative Mike Ritze proposed the first such bill in December 2008.

In the last month, bills have appeared in Connecticut, Tennessee, Arizona, Indiana, Nebraska, Missouri and Montana that would all require anyone running for elected office to furnish a long-form birth certificate before being declared eligible as a candidate. Oklahoma, home to several attempts at pushing birther bills through the legislature, has no fewer than three birther bills currently under review. Several of those states have seen birther bills proposed before, and still other states, including Texas, are carrying on discussions of birther bills from earlier legislative sessions. The newest crop of bills, however, goes further than any seen in previous years, with most demanding either that a candidate for the presidency must not have ever held dual citizenship or that both of a candidate’s parents be U.S. citizens.

Few of those proposing these bills will openly state that the legislation they are drafting is meant to attack President Obama directly. According to a recent Politico report, Texas state Rep. Leo Berman and Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey both innocently claim to simply “not know” whether Obama is an American citizen. Missouri state Rep. Lyle Rowland, meanwhile, says that the bill he drafted in his state is designed to prevent any illegal immigrants from becoming president.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Obama’s home state of Hawaii are pushing back with their own birther bill of sorts. Five Democratic state congressmen have proposed a bill that would allow anyone to see birth records of public officials upon submitting an application and a $100 fee. The bill is meant to settle the issue of Obama’s place of birth (though a wealth of evidence has failed to do so as of yet, as far as birthers are concerned) and generate revenue for Hawaii from birthers clamoring to see a birth certificate.

While the Arizona bill was narrowly defeated on Monday, none of the other bills from this legislative session have yet received a floor vote in their respective state legislatures. Previous such bills have never made it through the voting process, but the results of November’s elections in some states may make for different results this year. If other states get the requisite support for their own birther bills, the stringent language in some of the bills could theoretically keep President Obama off the ballot in those states (such as Tennessee’s bill, which rules out dual citizenship), guaranteeing months of lawsuits and legislative infighting leading up to the 2012 election.

Update, 11:20 a.m. EST: Public Policy Polling has just released a survey on the attitudes of likely Republican primary voters, including their opinions of Obama’s citizenship. The findings are extraordinary, PPP’s Tom Jensen notes.

Birthers make a majority among those voters who say they’re likely to participate in a Republican primary next year. 51% say they don’t think Barack Obama was born in the United States to just 28% who firmly believe that he was and 21% who are unsure. The GOP birther majority is a new development. The last time PPP tested this question nationally, in August of 2009, only 44% of Republicans said they thought Obama was born outside the country while 36% said that he definitely was born in the United States. If anything birtherism is on the rise.

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