Sunday, August 17, 2008

Does Adam Bourne have an identity problem?

I enjoyed reading Robert Ludlum as a lad and will even admit I've enjoyed the recent Matt Damon movies yet didn't know a 1988 mini-series existed. Neither did I know Adam Bourne until today. Adam is on the Alabama Democratic Party Executive Committee, serves on the Chickasaw Industrial and Commercial Development Board, and is even running for City Council down there to boot. In today's Mobile Press-Register I found a "Special to the Press-Register" piece titled FELON VOTING from Adam Bourne. And darned if my Scots isn't up a little. Adam begins:

As a former assistant attorney general for the State Elections Division, I must disagree with the guest essay titled "Penalty after the penalty," which advocated allowing convicted felons to vote.
"As a ..., I must ..." confused me. Was it part of his contract to write reactionary responses to reasonable requests? The essay he references is here. The same appears in today's Huntsville Times. Sam Brooke of the ACLU of Alabama and Kimble Forrister of Alabama Arise are the authors.

First of all, neither the ACLU or Alabama Arise are "some here-today-gone-tomorrow special-interest group." A young man just getting started ought to be careful is hurling invectives such as these. Love 'em or hate 'em , they've both been doing work long before either of us arrived on the scene and likely will well after we've departed.

The Mobile P-R weighed in the issue recently and scolded those filing the lawsuit. However, reading their obligatory bashing of the ACLU shows the legitimate need for the Legislature to act. This solid Montgomery Advertiser reporting filed today by Markeshia Ricks does as well. There's also the Gray Lady's Shaila Dewan's In Alabama, a Fight to Regain Voting Rights Some Felons Never Lost from this March.

The Op-Ed that troubled Mr. Bourne so much that he "must disagree" I'd argue shows Sam and Kimble have a rather solid handle on the issues presented. I'll share much of what they wrote in the following:

... The short answer is that confusion over Alabama voting laws has long vexed citizens and state officials alike.

... We have a shameful history of voter disfranchisement, and conflicting statements from the attorney general and the Legislature haven't helped.

Our constitution was amended in 1996 after prior voting laws were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as being racially discriminatory. Now, termination of voting rights occurs only for felonies involving "moral turpitude" — an antiquated term that is not defined in the constitution.

As an Alabama court explained, this term fails to "make clear to all citizens which crimes are those that would subject the guilty to the additional penalty of loss of voting rights." Such arbitrariness has no place in our law, especially in regard to the fundamental right to vote. ...

Yet in 2005, Attorney General Troy King came up with his own, broader list of disfranchising felonies, as well as a short list of those which are not.

The opinion includes many new felonies that are disqualifying (including passing a bad check), and six that are definitely not disqualifying (including possession of controlled substances and DUI-related offenses).

Many other felonies were simply not addressed.

Here's another complication. Even though the constitution clearly says that only the Legislature can specify voter qualifications, registrars across the state have adopted a contrary approach.

When registrars see a conviction that the attorney general says is not disfranchising (like simple possession or felony DUI), they correctly register the voter. But any other felony conviction — whether it is on the Legislature's list, the broader attorney general's list, or no list at all — is treated as disqualifying. ...

Nearly all individuals with a past felony conviction can get their voting rights restored by applying to the Board of Pardons and Paroles after they have completed their sentence, finished supervised release, and paid off all fines and restitution awards ...

This system is vastly inferior to processes in place in 41 other states, where the right to vote is restored automatically without burdening the parole board or the voter with the application process.

But more fundamentally, it is absurd to require citizens who have never been deemed by the Legislature to be disfranchised in the first place to go through this process to exercise a right they never legally lost.

Voting is the cornerstone of our democratic government, a right every American should exercise. Encouraging people with past felony convictions to vote and take ownership in their community is in everyone's interest.

In fact, studies show that incorporating voter participation into rehabilitation plans makes recidivism less likely.

We hope this lawsuit will dramatically reform the illegal practices occurring in Alabama, and ...

We also hope that all eligible former felons will seek to have their rights restored on their own from the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

It's not fair that they have to do this, but for now it's the only way to regain a right unjustly denied.

In reply, Adam lobs language of "unreformed predators" and "violent criminals" as he writes:

... in recent years, out-of-state groups have repeatedly tried to force Alabama to change the sensible practice of barring unreformed predators from the polls.

The ACLU's latest lawsuit is another effort to compel Alabama to register felons to vote. ...

The ACLU's lawsuit is nothing but a first step toward setting up polling places in prisons and jails. ...

... allowing incarcerated people to vote would be a nightmare for election officials, who would have to decide in what districts prisoners live and who would put themselves in danger by spending entire, 12-hour voting days within jailhouse walls.

Additionally, Alabama citizens would quickly lose confidence in a government selected, at least in part, by murderers and rapists.

Alabama is the cradle of modern voting rights. Even now, state election officials are completing a task that I helped begin by developing systems to allow all military men and women serving overseas to vote easily and quickly.

Banning violent criminals from the polls is not a reflection of a lack of a state commitment to voting rights. It is only a commonsense statement that those who tear down society should not be permitted to choose its public officials.

Mercy! A blend of ringing one's own bell, "tough on crime" rhetoric, ACLU attacks, and "the sky is falling". Neither the national ACLU or Alabama ACLU or Alabama Arise has advocated anything toward having those incarcerated voting beyond via one of the methods already available to them now. If a man or woman is merely awaiting trial they of course have a right to vote. As do those convicted of offenses that don't result in a loss of the right to vote. The problem is that right now the standards aren't clear. If Adam has so much concern for state election officials and others dealing with the actual problem wouldn't this lawsuit helping resolve the mess be something to be welcomed rather than walloped?

The Sentencing Project's efforts as to felony disenfranchisement, Right to Vote, is certainly worthy of a link. I also wonder what would Adam think of reforms to the Census processes on allocating those incarcerated to their home districts? The history of felon disenfranchisement (here's another link) is likewise interesting and like many things relatively complicated.

Adam also recently scolded the Alabama State Bar's efforts in boosting Judicial salaries after Executive Director Keith Norman wrote:

Since (1999), state employees, including attorney IVs, have received five cost-of-living increases. Unfortunately, the legislature has excluded judges from these same increases. From 2000 through 2006, the legislature has provided state employees cost-of-living increases totaling 18 percent, or 19.2 percent due to compounding. Despite pay increases for other state employees, the base pay for circuit judges remained frozen at $111,973 (district judges $110,973). Fortunately, the legislature chose to include judges in the 3.5 percent cost of living increase passed in the 2007 legislative session. This became effective October 1, 2007. Although the base pay for circuit judges is now $115,892 (district judges, $114,892), this small increase hardly makes up for the five years of cost-of living increases that other state employees have enjoyed.

According to the National Center for State Courts, the base salary for trial judges in Alabama ranks in the bottom 10 percent nationally and 15th out of 17 southern states. ...

Adam replied in a Letter to the Editor to The Alabama Lawyer in part with:
Tough choices are the order of the day in Montgomery; and no legislator could justify sacrificing pressing state needs to raise comfortable, six-figure judicial salaries to an amount that would eclipse both the income of everyday Alabamians and that of Alabama lawyers.
An acceptable argument I suppose and yet it seemed like Adam was making an excuse for politicians to not rationally examine the concerns of the Bar and then legislate accordingly. I've already written that I like what the Mobile Press-Register shared on the issue.

The title of the post asked 'Does Adam Bourne have an identity problem?" yet that is certainly not for anybody to decide but him. However, the Alabama Democratic Party Principles reads in part as follows:

That every citizen no matter what his religion or race or how humble or exalted his origin or station owes the duty to participate fully at every level of government and is entitled to an equal voice and to equal treatment at its hand; that all Democrats are bound to defend, protect and honor our Nation, our state, or Party, that when they are right, it is our privilege to sustain them, that when they err, it is our duty to correct them.
I simply think Adam erred. It's hardly personal to question his positions and I appreciate him sharing his ideas. And I've surely sinned rather often. What motivates Adam matters not. Even if he's engaged in an effort to merely be noticed and build creds, I've learned something in crafting this post. However, if Adam wants to serve on a party's Executive Committee I'd suggest he might fit in better over at the Alabama GOP. John Gunn

UPDATE ~ August 26, 2008 - Prince Troy thinks "Those who violate the laws should not have any role in electing the officials who make and enforce the law." His defense of his actions pretty much leaves off a response to various courts' concerns. Also, although I personally celebrate the ACLU's involvement they are joined in this effort Prince Troy.

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