Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Unseemly Perry veto shows how GOP fear of felon voters creates self fulfilling prophecy

With the 80th Texas Legislature behind us, now we can look forward to seeing how much of what was passed survives Governor Perry's veto pen. Already Governor 39% has vetoed a bipartisan bill that drew no organized opposition at the Lege: HB 770 notifying ex-offenders when they become eligible to vote and sending them a voter registration card (see Grits' discussion here, and testimony from TCJC).

Perry's veto message on this bill is a bit of mealy mouthed flotsam masking base political fears that more ex-offenders might vote. It reads like one of Terry Keel's parliamentary rulings, avoiding the central questions and dressing up an unreasonable, politicized stance whose only real justification is political gain.

The Governor's main, stated reason for a veto is that registering ex-offenders isn't part of TDCJ's "mission," but the state took away the voting right when offenders went to TDCJ, and it doesn't seem like a stretch to notify them when that restriction is removed. When offenders get "off paper" they already receive a packet of information from TDCJ, and this would just add the notice that they're eligible to vote and a registration card.

Besides, the Department of Public Safety's "mission" is not voter registration, but that doesn't stop Texas from operating its "motor voter" program to let people register to vote when they obtain or renew their driver's license. If there's a difference, I don't see it.

Indeed, Perry's veto message is full of such red herrings and misreprsentations. Perhaps the biggest one: "the state does not currently provide this service to law-abiding citizens, such as high school graduates who are new to voting. I find it unseemly that the state would make a greater effort to register former inmates to vote than we would any other group of citizens in this state."

Well, Mr. Perry, we do notify kids they can vote. I was handed my first voter registration application in a high school government class, and most kids get a driver license so the motor voter program gets them a registration card.

For ex-offenders, though, if they're not "off paper" when they re-apply for a driver's license, they won't be eligible to register then like others would be. The main reason for the bill is that many ex-offenders don't know what are the laws surrounding when they become eligible to vote again - a voter registration drive last year among ex-offenders found many people eligible to vote who believed they weren't allowed to do so. The 18-year old voters the Governor describes don't suffer similar misunderstandings.

Plus, the 18-year old voting age is uniform nationwide, while every state has different laws on when ex-felons can vote. The situations simply aren't analogous. We're not talking about just a few people. Nearly one in 20 adult Texans today are in prison, on probation or on parole.

In reality, it's Governor Perry's position on this that's "unseemly." The real reason for his opposition: Many GOP political consultants believe ex-offenders will be more likely to vote Democratic. OTOH, that could just be a self-fulfilling prophecy - perhaps it's policy stances like this one that make these voters less likely to support the GOP. Two thirds of Republicans in the Texas House and 75% of GOP senators voted for HB 770, but thanks to Governor Perry's veto, it will be hard for Republicans to avoid appearing as though this is their party's stance.

11 comments:

RoAN said...

Why does it matter? Elections aren't all that important anyway. :-)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, they don't matter if once we elect our representatives they can't be recognized for motions, but under normal circumstances they still carry some weight. :)

Outspoken woman... said...

roan said, "Why does it matter? Elections aren't all that important anyway.:-)"

I beg to differ; elections are of great importance because we have the RIGHT to vote. This right has been protected by generations of soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect our very freedom of democracy. To not vote is to say they fought for nothing. It is worth my time and your time to stand at a voting booth and make the choice of who we want.
I am in full agreement with Grits regarding the reason Perry doesn't want felon voters. Prior to my involvement with prison issues I was a Card carrying Republican who leaned so far to the conservative side I'm surprised I didn't fall on my head. Several years of working with Texas prisons, attending meetings in Austin, and watching the Dog & Pony show have made me destroy the old cards and get my balance back. I now lean neither left or right, but look squarely at the platform of the party trying to shove their political BS down my throat.
Perry may be sitting in the capitol with a mere 46% (?) of the vote due in part to Kinky and Strayhorn, but he clearly isn't a winner in any book I've seen lately. I am waiting patiently for a great poltician to rise from the dust and challenge this Bush castoff so that we can get something significant done in this state. We have some dynamic legislators who have not lost sight of the fact that these felons can be rehabilitated and thus become an asset to society rather than a drain on the state coffers. Thank God we have people like Terri Hodge, Sylvester Turner, and Jerry Madden trying to remedy an overloaded prison system. Without these key people fighting for the human rights of prisoners in this state I doubt seriously they would be fed or given the so-called constitutional medical care they now get.
Least all these politicians forget; each and every felon has a family somewhere in this state and if I have anything to say about it, they will be voting family members that can cast a vote for their felon relative.
So, roan, I hope you realize that your vote has been hard fought for and is a right in this country for you and everyone else (except felons) in this state.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@outspoken woman: to be fair, roan was poking me for a comment on his blog, the Lone Star Times, where I said he'd overstated the importance of elections.

BTW, your experience is similar to mine: If you focus on criminal justice issues, party labels quickly fade to oblivion b/c the issues just don't cut that way. Character and integrity matter more than party labels on these issues and neither party has a monopoly on those qualities. best,

outspoken woman.... said...

Sheepishly....sorry, roan. My bad.

Anonymous said...

It won't be long before election time comes around. Perry's opposition will be able to point out all his bad acts! I hope they don't hold back and Perry and his like are soundly defeated. The veto of this law to provide voting information is just plain mean spirited. Texas can not tollerate this kind of leadership any longer.

Anonymous said...

Although I have a Republican 'leaning' when casting my votes, I think it is outrageous that Governor Perry would veto such a bill. Isn't the whole idea of prison to punish and then rehabilitate, so as not to reoffend? What happened to helping these people start over and become good citizens? Perhaps I have a different view now that my own son is in prison...Grits for Breakfast is amazing...keep doing what you're doing. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

To 1:29, it's okay to be "Republican leaning"! This really stood out at me:

"Two thirds of Republicans in the Texas House and 75% of GOP senators voted for HB 770"

So most Texans legislators want the bill from both parties! It's just the governor who's an A-hole.

Anonymous said...

I received no packet from TDCJ what so ever when I got off parole in 1999.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That was the testimony in committee - maybe they started after you got out. I'm going to do some research on parole stuff this summer, I think, so I'll add that to the list to nail it down.

carol said...

How about the state share the info with an agency approved by the excon who notifies the excon of the right to vote. i.e. upon release, the excon gives an email address or a family members's email address and the offender is notified in this way?