As both a candidate and governor, Republican Matt Bevin pledged to support restoring voting rights to non-violent felons who have paid their debts to society.
But in his 10 months in office, Bevin, who has sole authority to restore a Kentuckian’s right to vote, has done it not a single time. Not once.
And who does he blame for this broken promise? The Beshears.
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Bevin’s press secretary told The Courier-Journal’s Tom Loftus that the governor’s general counsel and his staff are so overworked by “a multitude of frivolous lawsuits” brought by Attorney General Andy Beshear that they don’t have time to process applications from Kentuckians seeking to have their civil rights restored. Plus, Bevin inherited all these problems from the previous governor, Steve Beshear. Also, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, has sued the governor.
First, we must note, Bevin picked all the legal fights by making power grabs that were unprecedented and contrary to any conventional understanding of Kentucky’s statutes and constitution, giving AG Beshear little choice but to file lawsuits — three, so far — challenging the actions.
Bevin is mostly losing in the Kentucky courts that have considered the cases, including one already decided by the Supreme Court, which tells us that Beshear’s challenges have merit and are not frivolous.
Second, come on, get real. The governor’s office would find a way to get the work done if restoring voting rights were, in fact, a priority of the governor’s, which it obviously is not.
What is a priority is helping Republicans take control of the state House in the Nov. 8 election.
Suppressing the vote by disenfranchising people is a strategy straight out of the Republican playbook because higher voter turnout usually helps Democrats.
Kentucky makes it harder than almost any state to regain rights lost because of a criminal conviction. Most of Kentucky’s disenfranchised felons are white. But because sentencing has fallen disproportionately hard on blacks, Kentucky’s draconian restrictions cost minorities their voice in our government.
In 2006, the League of Women Voters of Kentucky reported that one in four black Kentuckians has lost the right to vote because of a criminal conviction — a statistic that should make all Kentuckians ashamed.
Bevin still professes to support “redemption and second chances in our justice system” but his actions (or inaction) speak louder than words.
One of his first acts as governor was to rescind a streamlined process for restoring voting rights to 180,000 Kentuckians put in place by Gov. Beshear.
At the time, Bevin said, “I agree that we ought to create a process for automatic restoration of civil rights for certain offenders” but he insisted it should be achieved not through an executive order but by voters amending the constitution.
The Republican Senate had always blocked such an amendment. This year the Senate, knowing the Democratic House would never go along, approved a meaningless amendment that would only have kicked the issue back to the legislature without restoring the rights of a single Kentuckian.
So, despite Bevin’s pledges, there was no progress on an issue he claimed to care about.
Compare Bevin’s record to that of his predecessors. Loftus reports that Beshear issued an average 1,190 restorations of civil rights a year during his two terms.
Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who was criticized for needlessly dragging out the process, averaged 277 restorations a year during his single term, including 317 in his first year in office when he, like Bevin, succeeded a Democrat.
It’s too late for the Nov. 8 election, but Bevin should keep his promise to support voting rights or at least come clean about where he really stands.