Herald-Leader Editorial

Thayer making GOP look bad; kudos to Republican voting-rights defenders

March 7, 2014 

Damon Thayer is the majority floor leader of the Kentucky State Senate.

At a time when voter suppression has become part of the Republican toolkit in many places, Kentuckians can be proud of GOP leaders who are standing up for voting rights.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover have all spoken out in favor of the House version of a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to most felons who have paid their debts to society.

Their spirited defense of House Bill 70 puts the prominent Republicans at odds with the GOP-controlled state Senate and more specifically with Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown.

Kentucky is one of very few states where felons who have served their time are not automatically restored as eligible voters but must petition the governor to regain the franchise. The version that cleared the House with overwhelming bipartisan support would have automatically made eligible voters of 180,000 Kentuckians.

By the time Thayer got through working it over, what emerged from the Senate would permanently disenfranchise more than half of those 180,000 Kentuckians, according to an analysis by the League of Women Voters.

Thayer's version also would burden county clerks with an unworkable requirement to check criminal records before registering people to vote or require creation of a new information clearinghouse within state government.

The House has wisely rejected the Senate changes, which means a conference committee will try to iron out the differences. If the chambers can agree, an amendment will go to voters in November.

Speaking Wednesday at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Frankfort, Hoover of Jamestown told the crowd that he supported the original version. "For me HB 70 is not a political issue," he said.

After the anniversary march, Georgia Davis Powers, an organizer of the 1964 march, returned to the ornate chamber where she served for 21 years as the state Senate's first and only black woman member. Asked to speak from the president's chair, she implored, "I'm here to ask you to restore HB 70."

CNHI News Service reporter Ronnie Ellis reports that after the 90-year-old civil rights warrior spoke, senators from both parties rushed to shake her hand while Thayer sat at his desk reading.

Meanwhile, Thayer also is blocking House Bill 5, requiring most state and local government agencies to notify citizens of any electronic breaches of personal information within 35 days.

Democratic Auditor Adam Edelen is pushing the bill which has been endorsed by almost 30 groups, including AARP of Kentucky, the conservative Bluegrass Institute, the Kentucky State Police and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

How could anyone oppose this completely unobjectionable cyber-security precaution? Just one reason: petty politics. Thayer has called it the "Adam Edelen for governor bill."

Thayer's Republican colleagues should let him know he's making the rest of them look bad.

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