Trump is endorsing this clown. Need I say more?
Gillespie ad blasting McAuliffe rights restoration policy as soft on sex offenders draws outrage from Democrats
By GRAHAM MOOMAW Richmond Times-Dispatch Oct 23, 2017
A marquee policy initiative of Gov. Terry McAuliffe took center stage in the Virginia governor’s race Monday as Republican Ed Gillespie attacked McAuliffe’s approach to felon rights restoration as charitable to the point of being dangerous and Democrat Ralph Northam pushed back by saying Gillespie should be “ashamed” over his “fearmongering campaign.”
The Gillespie campaign rolled out an ad Monday highlighting the case of a sex offender whose rights were restored late last year, months after he was arrested for having a massive child pornography stash. Gillespie said the case of John Martin Bowen of Accomack County illustrates the flaws in McAuliffe’s expansive approach to rights restoration with minimal screening of individual cases. Northam, the current lieutenant governor, has praised the policy.
In the ad, Gillespie says he supports rights restoration for offenders who have “paid their debt to society and are living an honest life.”
“But Ralph Northam’s policy of automatic restoration of rights for unrepentant, unreformed, violent criminals is wrong,” Gillespie says in the 60-second ad that sharpens the law-and-order message the GOP nominee has already emphasized with ads opposing sanctuary cities and stressing the dangers of the Latino gang MS-13.
Responding to Gillespie’s ad, McAuliffe, who has used his executive authority to restore rights to more than 168,000 people, accused the Republican of spotlighting one sexual predator to “sensationalize” the issue, adding that Gillespie “has jumped in the gutter with (President) Donald Trump.”
“This is one of the most divisive campaigns that I have ever seen,” McAuliffe said on a conference call with reporters.
McAuliffe’s office said Bowen’s rights were restored because he completed his sentencing obligations for an earlier sex crime, but he lost his rights again when he was convicted of the new charges and sentenced to 15 years. The Virginian-Pilot reported in June that Bowen already had a 2001 conviction for molesting a child before he was arrested last year with “one of the largest caches of child pornography ever recovered in Virginia.”
“He had been re-arrested, but he hadn’t been convicted of anything,” McAuliffe said when explaining why Bowen’s rights were restored last December.
The Northam campaign responded to the Gillespie ad with similar outrage.
“Since he has no positive ideas, he’s resorted to lying about Dr. Northam,” said Northam spokesman David Turner. “It is a new low for him to accuse a pediatrician and children’s hospice medical director of favoring felons who have hurt children. Ralph believes all Virginians who have served their time and are law-abiding should have their rights restored, and that’s never changed.”
Though Virginia is one of only a handful of states that constitutionally strip felons of their voting rights for life unless they’re restored by the governor, there is broad bipartisan consensus that those who have done their time and no longer pose any danger to society should regain the rights to vote, hold public office, serve on juries and notarize documents. Then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, took steps to make that process easier, but McAuliffe reached for a more sweeping reform last April when he restored the rights of 206,000 felons at once through a single executive order.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly successfully sued the governor, arguing he had overstepped his authority by effectively invalidating the felon disenfranchisement policy enshrined in the Virginia Constitution. Nevertheless, McAuliffe pressed forward with a streamlined review system that has allowed him to continue to restore felons’ rights at a rapid pace.
Though Republicans lost a second legal challenge against McAuliffe’s revised system, they have still argued that the restoration policy should draw a distinction between violent and nonviolent offenders and require felons to pay all victim restitution and court fees before regaining their rights.
Scrambling the typical partisan views on guns, Gillespie criticized McAuliffe’s approach Monday for making it easier for felons to get their gun rights restored. On a press call, Gillespie said the existing approach puts Virginia communities “at risk” from violent felons who can legally own guns.
“I believe that my policies will keep Virginians safer,” Gillespie said.
The McAuliffe administration has long rejected the argument that its rights restoration policy puts guns in the hands of potentially dangerous people, noting that ex-offenders whose civil rights are restored still have to petition a judge to regain the right to have firearms. That process allows local prosecutors to argue a case before the judge if they believe a particular felon shouldn’t be trusted with guns.
Even with the additional safeguards in place, McAuliffe’s policy puts the onus on the legal system to weed out reformed felons from those who may still pose a threat, said Loudoun County prosecutor Jim Plowman, a Republican who sued the McAuliffe administration to obtain a list of names showing the felons restored under the governor’s original order.
“What the administration is doing now is putting judges in the very precarious position of having these restored felons, many of them violent felons, walking into court with the cloak of gubernatorial review that they drape over themselves,” Plowman said on the call with Gillespie.
Gillespie has said he’ll look to amend the Virginia Constitution with a new felon voting policy with input from McDonnell and former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat. A Republican-sponsored constitutional amendment died in committee in the 2017 legislative session. Gillespie said formally adopting a new policy through legislative action would minimize swings that could come with leaving it up to the individual views of each governor.
The rights restoration debate has veered into racially charged territory in the past, with critics calling the disenfranchisement policy a vestige of Jim Crow laws meant to suppress the black vote.
“On the heels of his despicable attacks on our Latino friends and neighbors, Gillespie is now declaring loud and clear that he’s a strong supporter of racist laws that disproportionately block black Virginians from the ballot box,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of the left-leaning advocacy group Progress Virginia.
Democrats have compared debt repayment requirements to poll taxes, the financial barriers that historically blocked many African-American voters from democratic participation.
State Del. Greg Habeeb, a Salem Republican who sponsored the amendment to ease the constitutional ban on felon voting but with stricter rules than those adopted by McAuliffe, said Northam was among the many Democrats who supported requiring restitution payments in earlier attempts to reform the law.
“For those very same people to play the race card now on a policy that was their own proposal, ... that’s politics at its worst,” Habeeb said on the Gillespie call.
Asked for his response to the concerns that a more restrictive policy would disproportionately affect African-American voting power, Gillespie said, “That’s something that would be taken into account in the legislative process.”
Bowen, the sex offender whose mugshot appears in Gillespie’s TV ad, is white.