November 25, 2006

The Right To Elect A Convicted Felon?

Well, that is what the Houston Chronicle is arguing for today.

The ousting of Galveston Councilman Marc Hoskins is a frustrating development and not just to the young politician and his supporters. It reflects a natural but counterproductive attitude toward anyone with a criminal record an attitude guaranteeing that ex-felons can never be readmitted to society, even after repenting and serving their time.

I'll give them this much -- that Hoskins was not tossed off the ballot last spring and prosecuted for filing a false affidavit at the same time is a bit frustrating. After all, Hoskins affirmed that he was eligible for the office, despite clear statutory language forbidding convicted felons from serving as elected officials. Instead, it has only been in the last week that Hoskins was removed from the city council by a judge.

The ruling affirmed the arguments of Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk, who filed a lawsuit against the councilman. Sistrunk cited a state statute barring from public office any felon who lacks a pardon or other release from felony-related "disabilities." These disabilities include losing the rights to vote and hold office.

Hoskins says several attorneys deemed him eligible, in part due to a new law allowing felons to vote. In any case, he signed a mandatory, pre-campaign affidavit certifying his eligibility. City officials aren't allowed to challenge these affidavits, and no one else took it upon himself to try.

Now that rather laughable contention -- the repeal of one part of the law must mean that the other parts are inapplicable as well -- indicates that a number of Galveston area attorneys are incompetent and need to be disbarred for incompetence. But the legal inability of city officials to challenge Hoskins' candidacy is disturbing, because it meant that a clearly ineligible candidate was permitted to run for office despite his having publicly stated the basis for his ineligibility in campaign speeches and a newspaper column.

Now here is where the Chronicle turns stupid, having conceded that Hoskins broke the law with his false affidavit and that the city attorney was correct in seeking his removal from office.

That's why Hoskins' inaccurate affidavit, and the D.A.'s post-facto removal campaign, both are frustrating for citizens outside Galveston Island. Texas could use as many examples as possible of successful drug rehabilitation; Hoskins seems to be one.

Indeed -- so successfully rehabilitated that he decided to file a false affidavit and seek political office despite knowing that the statute in question CLEARLY declared him ineligible. I wonder what additional acts of malfeasance we would find if we looked into Hoskins' life more closely.

And then the Chronicle goes even further off track.

Even more helpful would be a public reminder that a conviction does not permanently disable young people's ability to exercise their full potential as citizens.

Oh, really? I guess that all those disabilities in federal, state, and local statutes are mere figments of our imagination -- clearly there are limits, including permanent ones, on the exercise of ones' "full potential" as a citizen following a felony conviction.

And it gets worse.

Galveston law implicitly accepts these goals. It includes no ordinance forbidding ex-felons from holding office. Texas law shouldn't either. After serving time, all nonviolent citizens should have the opportunity to rejoin the mainstream. For most, that includes regular employment. For those few who are inclined, it should also include the chance to hold public office.

Actually, Galveston law is silent on the matter because state law is clear on the matter -- convicted felons cannot hold public office. Under the logic of this paragraph, Galveston doesn't think treason is all that big a deal, having left the definition of that offense to the US Constitution rather than adopting its own statutory language on the matter.

But I will raise a question for the editors of the Houston Chronicle -- do you really advocate allowing convicted felons (or at least, as you qualify it, "nonviolent citizens") to regain full citizenship rights after serving their sentences? Does this by any chance include the full and unfettered exercise of their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, with all the associated rights implied by that part of the US Constitution?

I'm willing to allow them to do both -- are you? Or do you place the citizenship right of holding public office above the fundamental human right of possessing and using the means to protect oneself and one's family from aggression?

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