Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

Get my RSS |

Advertise on MotherJones.com

On His Way Out, Kentucky Governor Restores Voting Rights for 140,000 People

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 12:15 PM EST

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.

Republican Super-PAC Attacks Trump Because He's Creepy About His Daughter

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 11:28 AM EST

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.

Louisiana Just Voted to Give a Quarter of a Million People Health Care

| Sat Nov. 21, 2015 10:23 PM EST

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.

Thu Oct. 1, 2015 10:23 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 13, 2015 5:00 AM EDT
Wed Aug. 12, 2015 9:46 AM EDT
Thu Jul. 2, 2015 10:31 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 12, 2015 10:59 AM EDT