Jeb! Bush made the most of Florida’s arcane voter laws while he was governor to help disenfranchise black voters in the state, as documented by a new Mother Jones article titled, “How Jeb Bush perpetuated the Sunshine State’s war on black voters.”
The story opens on James Ghent, a black Miami resident who turned his life around in the early ’90s after spending much of the ’80s in and out of jail. “He got clean. He remarried and raised a family. He went back to school for a degree in radiography,” writes Pema Levy. But Florida is one of three states in which felons permanently lose their voting rights, even after serving their time. The only way to get one’s right to vote back is to petition the governor and his or her cabinet in person.
These hearings, held four times annually, begin promptly at 9 a.m. One
one, ex-offenders like Ghent approach a podium, where they have five minutes to make their case. A red light signals their time is up. If the governor recommends clemency, and if a majority of the cabinet members agree—and they almost always do—the ex-offender’s civil rights are restored. If the governor feels otherwise, the petitioner returns home without the full privileges of citizenship.
Ghent was one of the last petitioners on the docket. His hopes rose and fell with the fortunes of the men and women before him. He compared their crimes with his own. Fearing he might miss his turn if he strayed to the cafeteria, he limited his breakfast and lunch to the slim pickings from a nearby vending machine. By the time his name was called, he was racked with stress.
Bush issued his verdict as soon as Ghent concluded his pitch. “I’m going to deny the restoration of civil rights,” he said. He wanted to see Ghent remain on the straight and narrow a bit longer, to prove he had really changed his ways. “I hope you come back, and I wish you well.”
As if his voting rights weren’t enough, Ghent also had a professional stake in that decisio: He couldn’t get a license to practice radiography without the governor’s clemency.
The whole article is worth a read, but read on for some of the shocking statistics on how blacks have been disenfranchised in the Sunshine State for many, many years.