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Voting Rights Act
A Rare, Great Day to Be Floridian

My new hero

There aren’t many, but Thursday was a great day to be a Floridian: Gov. Charlie Crist, the Schwartzenegger of Florida (tan included, muscle not), led his cabinet in a reversal of a Jim Crow-quality law that had kept almost 1 million ex-felons, or 9 percent of the state’s voting-age population—enough to swing any election—from voting. Coming from Charlie Crist, who made his reputation as "Chain-Gang Charlie" when he brought back chain gangs to Florida as a state senator, this is quite a reversal, although it only seems to continue a transformation of Crist into a David Souter-like liberal in Republican toga.

The Cabinet is a four-member group of people elected statewide: the governor, the commissioner of agriculture and consumer affairs, the chief financial officer, and the attorney general. All but the financial officer (Alex Sink) are Republicans, although only the attorney general, Bill McCollum, is a reactionary. He voted against restoration of rights for ex-felons. McCollum, a military attorney elected in 1980 to the House of Representatives from an Orlando district that includes Disney, was to the right of the likes of Newt Gingrich. He capped his 20-year rampage through the House by being one of the House managers in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. He then ran for Florida Senate and lost, ran for governor and lost, and last November ran for attorney general and, unfortunately, won, his opposition being a virtual no-show. Earlier this week Rudy Giuliani nominated him his campaign chairman in Florida. Tough on crime? More like nostalgic for Devil’s Island. Bill McCollum argued that restoring voting rights to ex-felons would be undemocratic. Whatever they vote for in other races, I hope every singe one of them votes against McCollum in the next election. It’s a large enough bloc that it would ensure his removal from public disservice.

As we wrote in a News-Journal editorial earlier this week, “It’s difficult to say what’s more odious, the proportion of people denied the vote or the practice of denying the vote to citizens who’ve served their time. Prisoners lose rights. That’s a given (although, as in Maine and Vermont, the suspension of civil rights doesn’t have to be absolute). But ex-prisoners have by definition paid most of their debt. They may still be on probation, they may still have to pay restitution. But by giving them even a limited measure of freedom, the state is requiring them to live up to societal expectations: To be law-abiding, to earn a living, to pay taxes, to be a meaningful part of their community. By denying them the right to vote, the state contradicts those expectations.” And as we wrote again today, "It was the first major stare-down of Charlie Crist's governorship, and justice won."
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