Search This Blog


Barring felons as candidates improves governance

It’s possible that Prisoner #30609-034 will skate his way onto a ballot this fall, but whether he does he and those like him in the future should not have this chance that degrades the quality of governance in Louisiana.

Better known as former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, he recently exited the slammer after having served felony time for corruption in office. However, despite the Constitution making him ineligible to run for state office for 15 years after finishing his sentence without a pardon from the appropriate official, he signed up to run for his old House seat. A series of court maneuvers then ensued trying to throw him off the ballot or him trying to stay on it, based upon the Constitution’s provision.

These have come on two tracks, one weighing his status on how he thinks he should qualify within the provision, and the other on the constitutionality of the provision itself, where plaintiffs claimed the actual legislative instrument got lost in translation on the way to the ballot language to amend it into the document, which should nullify the successfully amended-in passage. The Louisiana Supreme Court is expected to rule on both questions in the near future.

My Advocate colleague James Gill has done a credible analysis on the specifics of the cases and concludes that Shepherd does not seem likely to prevail on either pathway. Yet he bemoans that outcome, arguing that the electoral marketplace should determine the fates of felonious candidates. Even if felons are running, Gill maintains that voters should have the final say on whether that recent and/or unredeemed criminal history disqualifies that candidate, not the Constitution.

But this view overlooks an important aspect to the constitutional prohibition as it stands, paralleled in the debate in years past over whether to deny certain retirement benefits to public servants who engage in corrupt activities as part of their jobs. Simply, as in the case of that state law that eventually passed into effect a couple of years ago, as it pertains to some of these benefits an official’s knowledge that committing a felony disqualifies from these serves as a disincentive to act corruptly in the first place.

Human nature of this kind also applies in the case of disqualification from holding state or local elected office. If a politician with progressive ambition knows that a career in politics essentially disappears if ever caught and convicted of a felony, of any kind, then that should discourage behavior that is felonious. While this includes activities outside of the performance of official duties, the official knowing the risk becomes less likely to take it in performance of his job, producing a higher quality of governance.

While the intent of many concerning this part of the Constitution may have focused more on preventing people that at one point in life showed defective character from becoming their governors, its deterrent effect is more relevant to justifying its existence. If the Supreme Court does strike down this passage, this should be restored in a constitutional manner as soon as possible.

No comments: