In a previous posting, we discussed what limited government means for criminal poverty. Even if a released felon overcomes the harsh realities of societal reintegration, what other disabilities are they still under beyond simply being and ex-con?
Recently, in Austin, Texas, resident Lewis Conway Jr. launched his campaign to run for city council. Conway, with a 1992 manslaughter conviction, faces an uphill race. Before getting his name on the ballot, he must swear that he is eligible to hold office.
Felony convictions take away rights, such as the right to vote, and their restoration varies by state. Some states permanently ban people convicted of certain crimes from running for office and with other states restoring the ability to run after someone has completed their sentence. However, Texas law is more nebulous. State law says he cannot hold office until he has been “released from the resulting disabilities.” This phrase is not defined, nor has it been previously litigated. While Conway has regained his right to vote, the question remains as to what disabilities he is still under.
The reality is that his only disability is felon status, meaning he has a criminal record. He is not beholden to the parole board, he doesn’t report to state officials, he doesn’t register as a convicted felon, like so many sex offenders do for life, and he enjoys all other citizenship rights and privileges.
Conway experienced these same questions, along with all other released felons in our country, since the day of his release; why can’t I get a job, why can’t I rent housing? And now, why can’t I make an impact and run for office.
This new question for Conway is likely a matter of legislative interpretation and intent. Texas Election Code prohibits a person from running for a public office if they had been “finally convicted of a felony from which the person has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.” The Election Code provides for a pardon, which would come from the Governor’s office, or, a release. Here, because the legislature wrote in a likelihood for felons running for office after “release from the resulting disabilities,” there must be an envisioned set of circumstances where he could indeed hold office. What is a release and who would issue it, is another question Conway and his lawyer Ricco Garcia must figure out. State District Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, the Pope? Whoever this release comes from will be answering the same question, what disability is Conway under other than simply being an ex-con.
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