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Jeb! vs. the Right to Vote

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US-ECONOMY-CEO-BUSH

Pema Levy has an essential story about the alleged reasonable, moderate, thinking-person’s conservative currently languishing in the remainder bin of the Republican primary and his active role in keeping former felons disenfranchised:

The year Ghent stood before Bush at the podium, the consequences of felon disenfranchisement were particularly profound. The 2000 presidential election was ultimately decided by a 537-vote margin in Florida. More than 500,000 ex-felons were barred from the polls, including at least 139,000 African Americans, who vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. Their exclusion almost certainly changed the outcome of the race. The beneficiary, of course, was Jeb Bush’s brother.

Bush, today a leading candidate for the Repub­lican presidential nomination, did not invent this quasi-monarchical process. But he did embrace it. Mother Jones obtained more than 1,000 pages of transcripts of clemency hearings held during Bush’s tenure. Together, they provide a glimpse into his moral reasoning as he weighed the worthiness of the appeals by thousands of ex-felons hoping to regain their rights. The transcripts, covering two years of hearings, show that Bush seems to have relied on an entrenched set of personal values in his rulings. If a crime involved alcohol abuse—such as DUI manslaughter cases, which were relatively common—he liked to see several years of complete sobriety before he would restore the person’s rights. He was loath to approve the applications of petitioners he felt were not sufficiently remorseful or did not take full responsibility for their crimes. He sometimes asked wives in attendance to keep their husbands in check. Ex-felons needed to prove, over years of good behavior, that they had reformed. Bush often denied clemency simply because he believed not enough time had elapsed since the completion of the petitioner’s sentence. He did not appear to question the basic premise of his judgments: that the right to vote should be contingent on a citizen’s moral rectitude.

[…]

Under Jeb Bush, Florida undertook a second voter purge—again with a sharp racial skew—in 2004, the next presidential election year. Of the 48,000 people on the second list, 22,000 were black. Just 61 people on the list were Hispanic, at a time when Florida Hispanics, including the Cuban community in Miami, voted solidly Republican. After the media made the list public, and with a potential lawsuit looming, Bush abandoned the purge.

In the beginning, felon disenfranchisement “was racial,” says Sancho, an outspoken critic of both purges. But after the 2000 election, he observed, it “turned into a partisan issue.” In his new book, Give Us the Ballot, journalist Ari Berman argues that the 2000 election inspired efforts to suppress voting across the country, after Republicans witnessed their party’s electoral success in Florida when thousands of Democratic-leaning voters were kept off the rolls.

Bush used it very badly, but as Levy explains the system is a rotten one. Letting the ability of free adults to exercise the most fundamental political right come down to inherently arbitrary decisions by the executive branch is just a terrible idea.

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  • Warren Terra

    I’ve nothing new or useful to say on this sad topic, except to congratulate Steve Beshear for restoring voting rights to perhaps 100,000 ex-felons.

    On the other hand, isn’t it sad that this had to be his last major act in office, as the lamest of lame ducks? See similarly outgoing Illinois Governor George Ryan commuting the sentences of everyone on death row. It’s good these people use their power for good, but it’s obvious they fear to do so when political consequences can result.

  • sergius

    I read that book by Ari Berman Give Us the Ballot (it was quite good), and he tells the same story of the voter purge that swung the 2000 election to Bush, but in less detail than this article by Levy. It’s so shocking (I shouldn’t be shocked, but I was) that so many legal voters could be thrown off the rolls merely for having a name with a 70% match to an ex-felon (who should not be disenfranchised either…)

  • Murc

    Only vaguely related: who the hell thought that exclamation point at the end of Jeb! was a good idea?

    I mean, I get not wanting to have ‘Bush 2016’ posters. But what would have been wrong with ‘Jeb’ and, like, a nice generic red white and blue logo. It might have been a little boring but it wouldn’t have been mocktastic. Does anyone even mention any other campaigns generic signage? No, they don’t, because its their name, some colors, and that’s it.

    It’s like, is Jeb!’s entire marketing team people from the nineties who think that sort of thing is cool and punchy?

    • DrDick

      I suppose it is marginally better than “Jeb?!” or “Jeb #!%@&!”.

      • Bruce B.

        I will respect the first presidential candidate in either major party to go with the slogan “Fuck Yeah, <My Name Here>”.

        • I think I’ll go for “Jeremy*” so that at least some people look at the signs a bit longer trying to find the footnote. I realize I’ll be writing off the grammar pedant vote, but, you know…

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            Yer doon it rong.

            “Jeb = *”

            Which makes sense when you consider that ‘*’ is just like ‘o’, but clenched really hard.

          • Bill Murray

            there was a very good power pop band out of Kansas City called Secrets*

    • Warren Terra

      I don’t think it’s necessarily awful, I think it could maybe have worked, but it certainly always risked mockery, and once it became clear his branding promised a level of energy and enthusiasm that his candidacy woefully failed to deliver, the exclamation point became almost entirely a target for derision – though, to be fair, in this respect it wasn’t particularly different from the candidate or his campaign.

    • Scott Lemieux

      In fairness, it worked really well for Lamar! Alexander.

    • keta

      …who the hell thought that exclamation point at the end of Jeb! was a good idea?

      You’re partly correct in thinking it was a way to differentiate from Dubya.

      During an early campaign spitballing session to address this problem a junior staffer on Jeb’s team suggested it, only as a joke, and to her horror the higher-ups immediately glommed onto the idea and the more they studied it the more they liked it. (Dany Diaz is a big Rogers and Hammerstein fan.) The exclamation-pointed first name quickly snowballed, and the junior staffer was too mortified to speak out.

      Around mid-October someone noticed this same junior staffer who first pitched the idea of “Jeb!” was a big F. Scott Fitzgerald fan who would often put forward FSF quotes as fodder for stump speeches and such. “Personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures”…”Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat”…stuff like that. Intrigued and looking for a bump in his own standing with the campaign humpers, this staffer then came across this F. Scott Fitzgerald quote:

      An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.

      He quickly ratted out the junior staffer who had first proposed the idea, she was shitcanned, and the entire campaign changed tack to “Jeb Can Fix It.”

      This will all be described in heartbreaking detail in a 2017 book by Mark Halperin, The Green Light.

      • Warren Terra

        Well done, but one minor correction – the revised slogan is “Jeb’ll Fix It“. Instead of buttons, campaign supporters will wear around their necks medallions saying “Jeb Fixed It For Me”

        • keta

          Goodness gracious.

    • Emily68

      If I recall correctly, everybody made fun of Lamar! too. You’d think they’d learn.

  • Lee Rudolph

    Only vaguely related: who the hell thought that exclamation point at the end of Jeb! was a good idea?

    Not Me!

    • Keaaukane

      Ida Know!

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      The programmers amongst us know that the proper way of expressing this is

      !Jeb

      You can use
      Bush--
      also too.

  • DrDick

    As far as voter disenfranchisement goes, that simply makes him a bog standard Republican politician. They have been doing that in every state where they can.

    • weirdnoise

      Hell, if they could go back where only property owners had the franchise they would.

      • Woodrowfan

        white, male property owners who were members of the “correct” Christian denomination.

  • keta

    moved to reflect reply

  • joe from Lowell

    You know what doesn’t get mentioned enough?

    George Bush’s Attorney General had to resign because of a scandal that started with bogus voter fraud prosecutions. They used the Department of Justice’s prosecutorial functions to gin up stories so they could push voter fraud bills, and that’s what USAttorneygate grew out of.

    • Warren Terra

      Eight US attorneys were fired by Dubya at least in part because they resisted pressure to concoct vote-fraud accusations and prosecutions, preferring instead to go after real crime in one way or another. One of these eight was particularly interesting: John McKay, who also offended the Dubya administration by paying too much attention to the unsolved murder of his predecessor in that office, about which the Bushies could not have cared less, which murder had connections to questions about gun control on several levels.

  • CrunchyFrog

    I knew most of this, but still appreciate the extra detail.

    My bottom line comment to this, as it often is these days, is: Republicans are Evil.

  • max

    the alleged reasonable, moderate, thinking-person’s conservative currently languishing in the remainder bin of the Republican primary and his active role in keeping former felons disenfranchised

    The Bushies have always been evil. But so polite. GAG.

    Letting the ability of free adults to exercise the most fundamental political right come down to inherently arbitrary decisions by the executive branch is just a terrible idea.

    Yes.

    max
    [‘Which is why it dismays when I hear some loose talk about hitting back. We only win pushing universal voting (including Trump-supporting idiots); anything else is playing their game and is a loser.’]

  • Derelict

    In conservative circles, there’s a “legitimate” question as to whether there is a right to vote. I seem to remember Scalia opining that nowhere in the Constitution does it mention a right to vote.

    Republicans love America, but despise its government and most of the people who live here. (And we also note that the GOP-led Texas legislature missed passing a ballot measure on secession by a single vote this weekend.)

    • Hogan

      I seem to remember Scalia opining that nowhere in the Constitution does it mention a right to vote.

      IIRC, he said that nowhere in the Constitution does it mention a general right to vote *for president.* Which is true.

      The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

      Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

      etc.

  • Richard Gadsden

    The only criminals denied the vote in the UK – which country is currently embroiled in a long-running battle with the European Court of Human Rights over denying criminals the right to vote – are those actually in prison and those convicted of electoral offences.

    Most EU countries allow some prisoners to vote.

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