In news-speak, it’s called a man bites dog story when something totally out of character and unexpected occurs.
Something along those lines happened on Wednesday when Virginia’s Republican Governor Robert McDonnell (pictured center) announced he would give non-violent ex-felons in the state a fair shake by making it much easier to regain their right to vote, even after a panel ruled that the Constitution bars a governor from restoring ex-felons voting rights by executive order.
Call this a case of a politician doing right, which unfortunately is becoming out of character and unexpected these days.
McDonnell didn’t have any compelling reason to take this stand other than a sense of doing what’s right, even though his party is staunchly against the notion of easing the way for ex-felons to get back their right to vote.
“It really is a personal thing. I believe in an America of second chances,” McDonnell said yesterday in announcing the new policy.
Under current law, felons who have completed their sentences had to apply individually to the governor who would determine if the ex-felon should get back their right to vote. It was a process that ex-felons deemed arbitrary and overly time consuming.
Now, felons who have served their sentences and stay out of trouble will automatically have their cases reviewed without having to apply.
This will help out the estimated 350,000 ex-felons in Virginia who are deprived of their voting rights.
Felons who committed violent crimes are excluded from the new rule, and that’s a good thing. There is a world of difference between someone who got busted for holding a bag of marijuana and someone who pistol-whips a crime victim.
Praise for McDonnell has flooded in from progressive organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, American Civil Liberties Union, and the Advancement Project.
But Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, raised a word of caution on the new rule, saying a new governor could revoke McDonnell”s move when they take office.
“Governor McDonnell has shown great leadership on this issue, though we are concerned that not every governor will keep his commitment to automatic [voter] restoration,” Hair said.
She is right and their is nothing written in stone to say Virginia’s next leader will act as boldly as McDonnell did.
I guess we will just have to hope that Virginia’s next governor will surprise us all by doing the right thing as Gov. McDonnell has.