Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The headline says it all

Democrats in the State Legislature, supported by Secretary of State Sam Reed, are seeking to restore voting rights to all non-incarcerated felons in a bill proposed by Representative Jeannie Darneille of the 27th LD (Tacoma/Pierce County).

Naturally, our local right wing friends are upset about this. Sadly, as you might expect, the post attacking the proposal on unSoundPolitics is titled:
The party of robbers, rapists and killers
A memo to Stefan Sharkansky & Company: Republicans, led by Richard DeBolt of Chehalis, tried to resort to vindictive labeling and dirty tricks last year with what are known now as the infamous sex offender postcards.

The attacks basically painted Democrats as being in bed with criminals - explicitly drawing the conclusion that Democratic legislators wanted to protect violent sex predators instead of innocent children.

The campaign, run by Republican hacks at the "Speaker's Roundtable" just over a year ago, was promptly refuted and discredited. (The House even voted to make it illegal). Months later, in the 2006 midterm elections, Democrats chalked up huge gains. We significantly expanded our majorities in both chambers - at GOP expense. Republicans got slammed big time. The bottom line: DeBolt's dirty tricks, even though they were expected to have an effect, did not work. Instead they backfired.

Voters and opinionmakers across the state were naturally outraged when the Republican leadership's sleazy tactics were exposed.

Even some members of the Republican caucus were upset, and went out of their way to apologize to Democrats.

Implying that Democrats are the party of "robbers, rapists and killers" is a guaranteed way of instantly sacrificing your credibility.

What Representative Darneille is proposing really isn't all that controversial, as Samuel Merill noted in his testimony:
Samuel Merrill, of Olympia, representing the Friends Committee for Washington Public Policy, said the vote shouldn't be conditioned on payment of debts or used as leverage to force ex-convicts to settle their accounts. Oregon, California and Idaho allow ex-cons to vote, as do most free nations, he said.
Katie Blinn, Deputy Elections Director for the Secretary of State, is referenced in the article as observing that it's hard to see a clear, bright line that would trigger restoration of voting rights. It's a complicated problem.

Our Constitution guarantees us many civil liberties, including freedom of speech and due process. We believe in a presumption of innocence rather than guilt - that's why prosecutors are required to prove in court that a defendant is guilty. We should err on the side of liberty instead of disenfranchisement. That's the idea and the spirit behind Darneille's bill.

There's nothing wrong with a debate about the merits of this bill and the underlying idea - we are a democracy, after all - but we would hope Stefan and his fellow bloggers would just dispense with the nasty, unfair inferences. Unfortunately, history tells us our expectations should be to the contrary.

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