And the sky turned in on itself…That’s the way it feels when I find agreement with Gov. Bob McDonnell these days. But McDonnell’s support of legislation to restore voting rights for nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences is legislation that I can get behind as well.
McDonnell pushed the proposal/legislation in his State of the Commonwealth speech, pleasing Democratic legislators and irking some of his conservative Republican Party colleagues.
The current process, championed primarily by conservative Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates, grants the governor the sole authority to restore the rights of individuals on a “case-by-case review.” The irony of these conservatives putting the keys of civic liberty into the hands of one individual shouldn’t be lost.
Altering the current system, however, would require a constitutional amendment which itself must be passed in two separate sessions of the General Assembly and then by the voters. Thus, given the barriers to such legislation (e.g., a House of Delegates that will very likely kill the legislation), McDonnell’s proposal appears to be more of a political move to reframe his public image than it is any great concern about the civic liberties of nonviolent felons.
Of course, such concerns shouldn’t entirely be disregarded. McDonnell may sincerely believe that restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons who have finished their sentences is the right thing to do.
Underlying McDonnell’s proposal is an attack upon the dominant strand of conservative ideology: that all individuals must be held to account for their actions.
McDonnell’s legislative proposal essentially admits that individuals make mistakes and that society should not punish the folks who get caught for the rest of their lives. By contrast, conservative Republican lawmakers suggest that anyone who commits a crime, nonviolent or not, should not be allowed to share in the same liberties as other “law-abiding citizens.”
In a society filled to the brim with laws, a society that does see difference in how laws are carried out, a society that picks and chooses who should be held to the full extent of the law for this or that offense, a society that gives a disproportionate advantage to middle and upper class individuals, it is unreasonable to argue against allowing greater leniency towards full citizenship if and when a nonviolent felon has completed his or her sentence.
As is so often the case, hypocrisy shrouds much of the anger being spewed by conservative Republicans. How many of them have committed felonies without being caught? How many skeletons are in their closets? How many second chances have they been given?
We all make mistakes in life, some worse than others. But none of us should have these mistakes bear upon us for the rest of our lives if we have taken the appropriate steps to rectify our behavior.