Outgoing Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order on Tuesday immediately restoring voting rights to more than 100,000 ex-felons convicted of nonviolent offenses. Until now, Kentucky was one of three states, along with Iowa and Florida, that did not give ex-felons their voting rights back after they completed their sentences. "This disenfranchisement makes no sense," Beshear, a Democrat, said in his announcement. "It makes no sense because it dilutes the energy of democracy, which functions only if all classes and categories of people have a voice, not just a privileged, powerful few. It makes no sense because it defeats a primary goal of our corrections system, which is to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes."
The restoration does not apply to sex crimes, other violent crimes, or treason. Going forward, felons exiting the criminal justice system will be presented with a certificate indicating the restoration of their right to vote and to run for public office. Those who are already eligible must submit a form to get their rights back. The Brennan Center for Justice in New York estimates that 140,000 Kentuckians are now eligible for rights restoration, along with another 30,000 who will become eligible in the future.
A spokesman for Republican Governor-elect Matt Bevin told Insider Louisville that "restoration of voting rights for certain offenders is the right thing to do," but he did not weigh in on the specifics of Beshear's order. Beshear's move is particularly significant because such restrictions on the franchise have disproportionately affected African Americans—often by design. Racial disparities in the criminal justice system are generally reflected in felon disenfranchisement rates, and Kentucky is no exception. According to 2010 census data compiled by the Sentencing Project, 5.5 percent of the state's voting age population were disenfranchised due to a past conviction. But for African Americans, the number is 16.7 percent.
Beshear's order comes after years of failed attempts by Kentucky lawmakers to address the issue. Because permanent disenfranchisement is in the state's constitution, a change would require approval by 60 percent of lawmakers and by voters via a ballot referendum. In 2014, the effort stalled. The GOP-controlled state Senate wanted a five-year waiting period before ex-felons could apply for their rights, and the Democratic-controlled state House would not agree to it. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, now a Republican presidential candidate, opposes disenfranchisement for ex-offenders and tried to revive the issue earlier this year.
Beshear said he waited until now to take executive action in order to give the legislative process a chance, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Bevin will be sworn in December 8.
Kentucky joins several states that have eased restrictions on felon voting since the mid-1990s. One of the exceptions to this trend is Florida, a perennial swing state where Democratic-leaning black voters are disenfranchised at an even higher rate than in Kentucky. In Florida, many ex-offenders must personally petition the governor and his cabinet for rights restoration. Under the current governor, Republican Rick Scott, Florida has made it very difficult for ex-felons to have their rights restored.
New Day for America, a super-PAC supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the back-of-the pack GOP presidential contenders, has a bold new plan to take down front-runner Donald Trump: tell Iowa voters how creepy he is. The group posted a web ad on Tuesday that mocks Trump for, among other things, saying of his daughter, while sitting next to her on national television, "If Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her."
Of all the Republican wannabes, Kasich took the lead in the last debate in assailing Trump, noting that Trump's plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants was nutso. But Kasich's verbal punches did not land, and, so far, it's tough to see him as the guy to dethrone Trump—and there's not much evidence to date that a YouTube clip like this will persuade Trump fans that he's too weird to be president.
Republican Sen. David Vitter lost his bid to be the next governor of Louisiana on Saturday, and it wasn't even close. The two-term senator lost the runoff election to Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards by double digits, setting the stage for the state to potentially become the first in the Deep South to accept a pivotal part of Obamacare.
Vitter was dogged by a decade-old prostitution scandal, and a bizarre spying incident at a coffee shop. Desperate to make up ground, he warned voters in one ad that President Barack Obama would release "thugs" from prison onto Louisiana streets. Vitter also sought to turn the tide by warning voters of a terrorist threat posed by the state's 14 Syrian refugees. He went as far as to allege (falsely, it turned out) that one of the refugees had gone missing. It didn't work.
Edwards, an anti-abortion, pro-gun West Point grad, became the first Democratic candidate to win a statewide election in Louisiana since 2008, and benefited from support from Republicans who were dissatisfied with Vitter's personal troubles and disappointed by the state's financial woes under outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal. (By the time Jindal dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday, the one-time rising star's approval ratings had dropped to 20 percent.)
Jindal also rejected federal funding to expand Medicaid. Edwards has pledged to sign an executive order authorizing the expansion of the program on his first day in office. That's a really big deal. Such a move would provide coverage to about 225,000 residents in one of the poorest states in the nation.
On Saturday, Louisiana voters will elect a new governor—Republican Sen. David Vitter or Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards. They'll also celebrate the end of one of the strangest campaigns in recent history. It has included prostitutes, an alleged love child, a coffee-shop spying scandal, a low-speed foot chase, an IHOP affidavit, the FBI, Santa Claus, and a fake terrorism scare.
Edwards is leading in most polls by double digits in the deep-red state—a testament to the supreme unpopularity of the current Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, and to Vitter's own shortcomings. In some ways, they're not so different. The Democratic challenger is, like Vitter, anti-abortion and pro-gun, and he asked President Barack Obama to halve the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Louisiana. (The Pelican State has thus far accepted 14.)
But Edwards has also backed accepting federal money to expand Medicaid with no strings attached. (Vitter has said he would not take expansion "off the table" but did not want to create an incentive for people to stop working.) Democrats hoping for off-year electoral successes suffered a major blow when Obamacare critic Matt Bevin was elected governor of Kentucky earlier in November. In Louisiana, they have a chance to quietly offset that loss and put a lot more folks on the Medicaid rolls. That's a big deal.
But the race is memorable for less substantive reasons. These are all real things that have happened over the final month of the campaign:
One week before the October election—Saturday's runoff vote between the top two October finishers was triggered because no candidate received majority support—a Louisiana blogger named Jason Berry published a video interview on his website, American Zombie, with a former prostitute who alleged that Vitter paid her $5,000 a month for three years, gave her jewelry, got her pregnant, and told her to get an abortion. The former prostitute, Wendy Ellis, told Berry she was coming forward because she was dying of lupus and wanted a clean conscience.
Berry would not reveal exactly how he found Ellis but admitted he'd gotten in touch with her through a professional political researcher.
On the eve of the first election, a private investigator employed by a law firm paid by the Vitter campaign was caught secretly filming a group of Edwards supporters, including Jefferson Parish sheriff Newell Normand, during a regular coffee meeting at the Royal Blend cafe in Old Metairie.
When a member of the group took a photo of the P.I., he fled on foot through a succession of vacant properties. The Edwards supporters pursued the P.I. through the neighborhood, and found him hiding behind an air-conditioning unit. He was arrested and charged with criminal mischief.
The private investigator told sheriff deputies that he was not spying on the sheriff, but rather "on an assignment to conduct surveillance on a subject with a white beard."
The "subject with a white beard" revealed himself to be a New Orleans lawyer and Edwards supporter named John Cummings, who told the Baton Rouge Advocate, "The stupid son of a bitch was supposed to find Santa Claus in the cafe; that's the guy with the white beard."
Cummings added, "You can tell David Vitter that he doesn't get anything for Christmas. He's been naughty."
The deputies found a LexisNexis dossier inside the private investigator's car about Berry, the American Zombie blogger who published the story about Vitter and his alleged love child.
Berry told reporters that he had seen the private investigator outside his own house two days earlier. "I don't know whether it was incompetence, whether he's like Inspector Clouseau, or whether the guy actually wanted me to see him, but it was pretty clear what was going on when I made eye contact with him and he smiled at me," he told WWL-TV.
Unbeknownst to Vitter's P.I., the opposition researcher who helped Berry track down Ellis was also at the Royal Blend. The investigator, Danny Denoux, told the Advocate that he had been retained by an anonymous businessman.
Edwards' first ad of the runoff election, aired during a Louisiana State University football game, stated, "David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriots. Now, the choice is yours."
Vitter told reporters he sent documents to the FBI and the local US Attorney's office accusing Cummings ("the guy with the white beard") of paying a witness to make false statements against him. (Cummings has denied this.)
The next day, Normand, the Jefferson Parish sheriff who chased Vitter's P.I. through the streets of Metairie, held a press conference to announce that he had recovered video footage from theprivate investigator's phone, depicting a 30-minute interview at an IHOP with an acquaintance of the prostitute. The investigator on the tape was attempting to persuade Ellis' friend, an unidentified woman, to sign an affidavit discrediting Ellis' claims. Norman read aloud several excerpts from the meeting. "I'd like you to say Jason Berry made payment to several witnesses," the investigator told the woman. "If I could show then Jason Berry paying people off, that would kind of kill this story." Normand told reporters he was going to turn the tapes over to the FBI. (Berry has denied paying sources for material.)
Vitter returned to the scene of the crime, holding a private meeting with donors at—of all places—the Royal Blend cafe in Metairie, where his P.I. had filmed Normand's coffee meeting.
After Vitter took umbrage at the ad about the prostitutes during their debate, Edwards told Vitter, "If it's a low blow, it's only because that's where you live, senator—it's 100 percent truthful":
Citing "those extracurricular activities that you don't want to admit to," the Democrat continued, "You're a liar and you're a cheater and you're a stealer and I don't tolerate that." (Vitter has denied being a liar and a stealer.)
Trailing in the polls by double digits, Vitter wrote an open letter to Obama warning him that a Syrian refugee who had resettled in Louisiana had gone "missing." The Louisiana GOP picked up Vitter's talking point and emailed supporters, "There is an unmonitored Syrian refugee who is walking around freely, and no one knows where he is."
In a speech at Georgetown University on Thursday afternoon, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who's seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, did something unprecedented for a major candidate: He made the case for democratic socialism.
The address, which Sanders wrote himself, had been in the works for weeks, and in it Sanders embraced a label that has most often been used to attack him. (At the first Democratic presidential debate last month, front-runner Hillary Clinton distanced herself from Sanders' "democratic socialist" views.) At times, this address sounded much like Sanders' stump speech: He railed against Wall Street, the "ruling class," and the billionaire Koch brothers. But he tied those stances to an ideology that he contended was an essential part of the United States' heritage.