I teach civics in our Florida prisons. Why teach felons about government? Thomas Jefferson answered this question: “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.”
If felons have “skin in the game,” to borrow President Obama’s term, then they will act like it. But teach a man he has no stake in the system, and he will act like it.
Republicans in the Florida legislature have a bill intended to sabotage the clear promise of Amendment 4 — to restore voting rights automatically to felons who are not murderers and not sex offenders once they have done their time. These legislators do not care that nearly two-thirds of voters approved Amendment 4.
I have been a Republican since I stood on my school playground at the age of nine on election day in November 1960 with a “Nixon for President” sign. The fearful notion that all these felons will vote Democrat is false. My years teaching civics have taught me that many inmates will vote Republican if given the chance. It should not surprise anyone that a citizen put in prison by the government might want less government.
Lost on Republicans in the House and Senate is the irony that the Party of Lincoln ended slavery and granted citizenship, and with it, the right to vote to former slaves.
Last week, after being a Republican for 58 years, I officially unregistered. Why? Because Republicans in Florida’s legislature seek to impose a poll tax on these felons in violation of the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
This bill should be vetoed. Ex-felons need a reason to be good citizens.