Before anyone starts feeling a little sorry for John Ellis “Fredo” Bush (that’s the worst of being a leftist, it saps your capacity for raw hatred), here’s Mother Jones on his very personal history of making sure the “wrong people” wouldn’t be able to exercise the franchise:
Shortly after midnight on September 14, 2000, James Ghent slipped out of his Miami home, climbed into his car with a suit, a toothbrush, and a change of underwear, and drove nearly 500 miles to Tallahassee to ask Jeb Bush for his rights back…
Ghent completed his final prison sentence in the early 1990s and his parole in 1995. He got clean. He remarried and raised a family. He went back to school for a degree in radiography.
But like everyone convicted of a felony in Florida, Ghent permanently lost his right to vote, serve on a jury, and run for office. The only way to regain these rights was to petition the governor for clemency. Ghent believed voting “should always be a right,” but he was also motivated by economic concerns. He couldn’t receive a professional license to practice radiography unless the governor granted his petition. And so on that September morning, Ghent descended into the basement of the state Capitol with dozens of other petitioners for a unique Florida ritual: ex-felons entreating the governor and members of his cabinet for the restoration of their civil rights.
These hearings, held four times annually, begin promptly at 9 a.m. One by 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…
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.”
Fifteen years later, Ghent remembers the sting of those words. “He was very dismissive,” says Ghent. The ex-felon wanted to push back against Bush’s decision. But he simply said, “Thank you,” and turned away.
Ghent was destined to remain an unwilling member of an unlucky club: the legions of Florida citizens—disproportionately African Americans, like him—who since the Civil War have been barred from the democratic process because of past convictions. Florida is currently one of three states that permanently disenfranchise everyone with felony convictions, even after they have completed all the terms of their sentences—a practice that today excludes nearly 1.5 million Floridians from voting, including about 20 percent of the state’s black voting-age population. Under Bush, some low-level offenders regained their rights without appearing in person. But for many ex-felons, including some convicted of minor drug crimes, the only way to prevail was to show up and plead for clemency.
The year Ghent stood before Bush at the podium, the consequences of felon disenfranchisement were particularly profound. The 2000 presidential election was ultimately decided by a 537-vote margin in Florida. More than 500,000 ex-felons were barred from the polls, including at least 139,000 African Americans, who vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. Their exclusion almost certainly changed the outcome of the race. The beneficiary, of course, was Jeb Bush’s brother.
Bush, today a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, did not invent this quasi-monarchical process. But he did embrace it. Mother Jones obtained more than 1,000 pages of transcripts of clemency hearings held during Bush’s tenure. Together, they provide a glimpse into his moral reasoning as he weighed the worthiness of the appeals by thousands of ex-felons hoping to regain their rights. The transcripts, covering two years of hearings, show that Bush seems to have relied on an entrenched set of personal values in his rulings. If a crime involved alcohol abuse—such as DUI manslaughter cases, which were relatively common—he liked to see several years of complete sobriety before he would restore the person’s rights. He was loath to approve the applications of petitioners he felt were not sufficiently remorseful or did not take full responsibility for their crimes. He sometimes asked wives in attendance to keep their husbands in check. Ex-felons needed to prove, over years of good behavior, that they had reformed. Bush often denied clemency simply because he believed not enough time had elapsed since the completion of the petitioner’s sentence. He did not appear to question the basic premise of his judgments: that the right to vote should be contingent on a citizen’s moral rectitude…