Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beshear Restores Voting Rights to 790 Kentuckians

On the grounds that "news" is by definition that which is unusual - man bites dog, not dog bites man - allow us to call to your attention that "Democratic" Governor Steve Beshear has done something progressive and possibly even liberal.

Don't panic; he'll be back sucking repug dick by Monday.

Gov. Steve Beshear has restored the voting rights of 790 felons after streamlining the process implemented by his predecessor, Ernie Fletcher.

Beshear said in March that he was eliminating steps Fletcher imposed, including requiring felons to obtain three recommendations and to write a letter saying why they deserved to have their rights restored.

"As governor, I have re-instituted the process that previous governors — with the exception of Gov. Fletcher — had used to restore felons' rights," Beshear said.

Those rights include the right to vote and to run for public office, said Les Fugate, spokesman for Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

The restoration does not erase convicts' records or permit them to own weapons.


Beshear said his policy still requires confirmation that a felon has fulfilled all sentencing requirements. In addition, he is extending to 30 days, from 15, the time given prosecutors to object.

"So far 56 applicants have been turned down based on the input from prosecutors," he said. "At the same time, those whose rights have been restored have served their time and paid their debt to society."


Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel said he supports Beshear's decision to streamline the process and doesn't oppose restoring rights to felons convicted of murder.

"I was opposed to what Fletcher did to start with," he said. "I think it was a thinly veiled attempt to disenfranchise people, or keep them disenfranchised."

Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville branch of the NAACP, said the organization has been running ads on black radio stations encouraging convicted felons to apply to have their rights restored. The ad also notes that they should apply soon so the process can be completed before the Oct. 6 deadline for registering to vote in the 4general election.

"If even a person convicted of murder has served his time, and is off probation and parole and completed all provisions of his sentence, then he is entitled in my opinion to vote," Cunningham said. "They start paying taxes immediately. Once they come out of the institution they are participating in society. Why not give them full participation?"

A bill filed in this year's regular session of the General Assembly would have allowed voters to decide whether to amend the constitution to restore voting rights automatically upon completion of a criminal's sentence.

What none of the articles about this rights restoration mentions is that according to national statistics, approximately 10 percent of felons are veterans. Although the Kentucky Department of Corrections does not bother to find out which of its inmates are veterans (shame on you, DoC!), we can safely assume that 75 or 80 of those 790 felons whose voting rights Beshear restored are veterans of the United States Armed Forces.

As the Courier-Journal pointed out in an editorial:

The American system of justice assumes that, once a person has paid the penalty for crime, it's in everybody's interest to help that individual integrate productively into society. Prosecutors should understand that, but some don't get it.


To call what Mr. Beshear has done "partial pardons" is to encourage misunderstanding, and to rouse an overreaction by those who prefer revenge to rehabilitation.


Giving convicts a stake in decent society, and its democratic processes, is not only the just thing to do but the smart investment to make.

Amen. Although the CJ's editorial headline: "Beshear Gets It" was both hyperbolic and premature. Beshear has proven over and over and over again since his election last November that he blatantly does NOT "get it," at least if "it" is how to tell the repugs who lost the election that it's their turn to sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.

But as nothing annoys repugs more than anything that makes it easier for non-white, non-wealthy, non-republicans to vote, this is a step in the right direction.

Cross-posted at Blue in the Bluegrass.