Virginia governor’s civil rights restoration efforts are underwhelming, activists say – ThinkProgress


As Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) struggles to get well from the backlash to a racist yearbook photograph that resurfaced earlier this month, he’s touting his work restoring civil rights to individuals with felony convictions. Northam underscored his perception in “second possibilities” in an announcement Tuesday, whereas requires his resignation have intensified.

Northam’s rights restoration work will not be new, because the governor has adopted within the footsteps of his predecessors who additionally labored to re-enfranchise individuals with felony convictions, however in line with his workplace, the governor has restored the best to vote, serve on a jury, run for public workplace, and turn into a notary public to 10,992 Virginians with felony convictions.

“I consider in second possibilities and making our Commonwealth extra open and accessible to all,” Northam stated the discharge. “Virginians who’ve repaid their money owed ought to be capable of return to society, get a superb job, and take part in our democracy. This is a crucial achievement that marks my administration’s unwavering dedication to equity, rehabilitation, and restorative justice.”

Activists say it’s not sufficient.

Virginia is one in every of three states that completely bars individuals with felony convictions — also called returning residents — from voting, although governors within the state have taken to utilizing government orders to revive the rights to many individuals convicted. Notably, Virginia governors are required to revive rights individually, after a courtroom dominated that former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) didn’t have the ability to revive rights for 206,000 returning residents en masse. McAuliffe then labored to revive the rights of 173,166 individuals individually over the course of 18 months, together with about 156,000 within the first yr.

To place Northam’s work since taking workplace in context, he’s restoring rights at lower than one-tenth the velocity of his predecessor. That, Georgina Cannan, vice chairman of Unfold The Vote, instructed ThinkProgress, signifies rights restoration is definitely a decrease precedence for the Northam administration than the governor’s assertion Tuesday makes it appear.

“It’s not a radical quantity,” Cannan stated. “It’s not that. And I additionally assume that may be very a lot a symptom of how this apology tour has gone. It doesn’t really feel real.”

Cannan additionally stated it was unfair to carry the plight of returning residents into a dangerous political second for Northam.

”[Rights restoration] has been type of an emotional curler coaster for our returning residents in Virginia,” she stated. “To me, it’s type of troubling that these individuals [with felony convictions]… they’ve gone by this curler coaster and now they’re getting used as a political pawn.”

Claire Gastañaga, government director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia, declined to invest concerning the timing of Tuesday’s assertion however stated if Northam is genuinely invested in restoring rights to the disenfranchised, then he ought to push for a constitutional modification.

“If the governor had been really dedicated to rooting Jim Crow out of our structure he would be a part of us in calling for the elimination of… felony disenfranchisement,” Gastañaga stated in an interview with ThinkProgress. “The one approach to get the place the governor says he needs to go is to amend the structure.”

As with each state that disenfranchises individuals with felony convictions, African People in Virginia are hit the toughest: In keeping with Gastañaga, one in 5 black Virginians is presently unable to vote.

“What I’d need to see from him when it comes to management on this concern… is saying that the best to vote would belong to all Virginians,” Gastañaga stated. “[Saying,] ‘I perceive [restoring rights is] not sufficient, and the rationale why it’s not sufficient is that we have now a legal justice system that’s deeply contaminated with racial disparities.”‘

The photograph that triggered widespread requires Northam’s resignation was initially revealed by a right-wing web site on February 1, the primary day of Black Historical past Month. The 1984 picture was included on a yearbook web page devoted to Northam and reveals two individuals, each holding canned drinks. One individual is carrying a white Ku Klux Klan gown and a hood, whereas the opposite is in blackface, carrying a white hat, black jacket, white shirt with a bow tie and plaid pants.

Northam’s alma mater, Virginia Navy Institute, and his medical college focus, pediatrics, are listed underneath the photograph.

Hours after the photograph was revealed, Northam apologized and took duty for the photograph, however didn’t say which individual was him.

“I’m deeply sorry for the choice I made to seem as I did on this photograph and for the damage that call triggered then and now,” he stated in an announcement. “This conduct will not be in line with who I’m immediately and the values I’ve fought for all through my profession within the navy, in drugs and in public service.”

By the following morning, nonetheless, Northam stated he was not truly within the photograph. He has refused to resign regardless of calls from practically each prime Democrat within the state and within the nation.

On Monday, BuzzFeed reported that, quite than resigning, Northam would embark on a “listening tour,” in an effort to have interaction communities throughout the state in conversations about race. He’s additionally reportedly planning to signal a invoice that will carry down Accomplice statutes within the state if the legislature passes it.


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